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´╗┐Title: Hiram the Young Farmer
Author: Todd, Burbank L.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hiram the Young Farmer" ***

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HIRAM THE YOUNG FARMER

By Burbank L. Todd


CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. THE CALL OF SPRING

CHAPTER II. AT MRS. ATTERSON'S

CHAPTER III. A DREARY DAY

CHAPTER IV. THE LOST CARD

CHAPTER V. THE COMMOTION AT MOTHER ATTERSON'S

CHAPTER VI. THIS DIDN'T GET BY HIRAM

CHAPTER VII. HOW HIRAM LEFT TOWN

CHAPTER VIII. THE LURE OF GREEN FIELDS

CHAPTER IX. THE BARGAIN IS MADE

CHAPTER X. THE SOUND OF BEATING HOOFS

CHAPTER XI. A GIRL RIDES INTO THE TALE

CHAPTER XII. SOMETHING ABOUT A PASTURE FENCE

CHAPTER XIII. THE UPROOTING

CHAPTER XIV. GETTING IN THE EARLY CROPS

CHAPTER XV. TROUBLE BREWS

CHAPTER XV. ONE SATURDAY AFTERNOON

CHAPTER XVII. MR. PEPPER APPEARS

CHAPTER XVIII. A HEAVY CLOUD

CHAPTER XIX. THE REASON WHY

CHAPTER XX. AN ENEMY IN THE DARK

CHAPTER XXI. THE WELCOME TEMPEST

CHAPTER XXII. FIRST FRUITS

CHAPTER XXIII. TOMATOES AND TROUBLE

CHAPTER XXIV. "CORN THAT'S CORN"

CHAPTER XXV. THE BARBECUE

CHAPTER XXVI. SISTER'S TURKEYS

CHAPTER XXVII. RUN TO EARTH

CHAPTER XXVIII. HARVEST

CHAPTER XXIX. LETTIE BRONSON'S CORN HUSKING

CHAPTER XXX. ONE SNOWY MIDNIGHT

CHAPTER XXXI. "MR. DAMOCLES'S SWORD"

CHAPTER XXXII. THE CLOUD IS LIFTED

CHAPTER XXXIII. "CELERY MAD"

CHAPTER XXXIV. CLEANING UP A PROFIT

CHAPTER XXXV. LOOKING AHEAD



CHAPTER I. THE CALL OF SPRING

"Well, after all, the country isn't such a bad place as some city folk
think."

The young fellow who said this stood upon the highest point of the Ridge
Road, where the land sloped abruptly to the valley in which lay the
small municipality of Crawberry on the one hand, while on the other open
fields and patches of woodland, in a huge green-and-brown checkerboard
pattern, fell more easily to the bank of the distant river.

Dotted here and there about the farming country lying before the youth
as he looked westward were cottages, or the more important-looking
homesteads on the larger farms; and in the distance a white church spire
behind the trees marked the tiny settlement of Blaine's Smithy.

A Sabbath calm lay over the fields and woods. It was mid-afternoon of
an early February Sunday--the time of the mid-winter thaw, that false
prophet of the real springtime.

Although not a furrow had been turned as yet in the fields, and the snow
lay deep in some fence corners and beneath the hedges, there was, after
all, a smell of fresh earth--a clean, live smell--that Hiram Strong had
missed all week down in Crawberry.

"I'm glad I came up here," he muttered, drawing in great breaths of
the clean air. "Just to look at the open fields, without any brick and
mortar around, makes a fellow feel fine!"

He stretched his arms above his head and, standing alone there on the
upland, felt bigger and better than he had in weeks.

For Hiram Strong was a country boy, born and bred, and the town stifled
him. Besides, he had begun to see that his two years in Crawberry had
been wasted.

"As a hustler after fortune in the city I am not a howling success,"
mused Hiram. "Somehow, I'm cramped down yonder," and he glanced back
at the squalid brick houses below him, the smoky roofs, and the ugly
factory chimneys.

"And I declare," he pursued, reflectively, "I don't believe I can stand
Old Dan Dwight much longer. Dan, Junior, is bad enough--when he is
around the store; but the boss would drive a fellow to death."

He shook his head, now turning from the pleasanter prospect of the
farming land and staring down into the town.

"Maybe I'm not a success because I don't stick to one thing. I've had
six jobs in less'n two years. That's a bad record for a boy, I believe.
But there hasn't any of them suited me, nor have I suited them.

"And Dwight's Emporium beats 'em all!" finished Hiram, shaking his head.

He turned his back upon the town once more, as though to wipe his
failure out of his memory. Before him sloped a field of wheat and
clover.

It had kept as green under the snow as though winter was an unknown
season. Every cloverleaf sparkled and the leaves of wheat bristled like
tiny spears.

Spring was on the way. He could hear the call of it!

Two years before Hiram had left the farm. He had no immediate relatives
after his father died. The latter had been a tenant-farmer only, and
when his tools and stock and the few household chattels had been sold
to pay the debts that had accumulated during his last illness, there was
very little money left for Hiram.

There was nobody to say him nay when he packed his bag and started for
Crawberry, which was the metropolis of his part of the country. He had
set out boldly, believing that he could get ahead faster, and become
master of his own fortune more quickly in town than in the locality
where he was born.

He was a rugged, well-set-up youth of seventeen, not over-tall, but
sturdy and able to do a man's work. Indeed, he had long done a man's
work before he left the farm.

Hiram's hands were calloused, he shuffled a bit when walked, and his
shoulders were just a little bowed from holding the plow handles since
he had been big enough to bridle his father's old mare.

Yes, the work on the farm had been hard--especially for a growing boy.
Many farm boys work under better conditions than Hiram had.

Nevertheless, after a two years' trial of what the city has in store for
most country boys who cut loose from their old environment, Hiram Strong
felt to-day as though he must get back to the land.

"There's nothing for me in town. Clerking in Dwight's Emporium will
never get me anywhere," he thought, turning finally away from the open
country and starting down the steep hill.

"Why, there are college boys working on our street cars here--waiting
for some better job to turn up. What chance does a fellow stand who's
only got a country school education?

"And there isn't any clean fun for a fellow in Crawberry--fun that
doesn't cost money. And goodness knows I can't make more than enough to
pay Mrs. Atterson, and for my laundry, and buy a new suit of overalls
and a pair of shoes occasionally.

"No, sir!" concluded Hiram. "There's nothing in it. Not for a fellow
like me, at any rate. I'd better be back on the farm--and I wish I was
there now."

He had been to church that morning; but after the late dinner at his
boarding house had set out on this lonely walk. Now he had nothing to
look forward to as he returned but the stuffy parlor of Mrs. Atterson's
boarding house, the cold supper in the dining-room, which was attended
in a desultory fashion by such of the boarders as were at home, and then
a long, dull evening in his room, or bed after attending the evening
service at the church around the corner.

Hiram even shrank from meeting the same faces at the boarding house
table, hearing the same stale jokes or caustic remarks about Mrs.
Atterson's food from Fred Crackit and the young men boarders of his
class, or the grumbling of Mr. Peebles, the dyspeptic invalid, or the
inane monologue of Old Lem Camp.

And Mrs. Atterson herself--good soul though she was--had gotten on Hiram
Strong's nerves, too. With her heat-blistered face, near-sighted eyes
peering through beclouded spectacles, and her gown buttoned up hurriedly
and with a gap here and there where a button was missing, she was the
typically frowsy, hurried, nagged-to-death boarding house mistress.

And as for "Sister," Mrs. Atterson's little slavey and
maid-of-all-work----

"Well, Sister's the limit!" smiled Hiram, as he turned into the street,
with its rows of ugly brick houses on either hand. "I believe Fred
Crackit has got it right. Mrs. Atterson keeps Sister instead of a
cat--so there'll be something to kick."

The half-grown girl--narrow-chested, round shouldered, and sallow--had
been taken by Mrs. Atterson from some charity institution. "Sister," as
the boarders all called her, for lack of any other cognomen, would have
her yellow hair in four attenuated pigtails hanging down her back, and
she would shuffle about the dining-room in a pair of Mrs. Atterson's old
shoes----

"By Jove! there she is now," exclaimed the startled youth.

At the corner of the street several "slices" of the brick block had
been torn away and the lot cleared for the erection of some business
building. Running across this open space with wild shrieks and spilling
the milk from the big pitcher she carried--milk for the boarders' tea,
Hi knew--came Mrs. Atterson's maid.

Behind her, and driving her like a horse by the ever present "pigtails,"
bounded a boy of about her own age--a laughing, yelling imp of a boy
whom Hiram knew very well.

"That Dan Dwight is the meanest little scamp at this end of the town!"
he said to himself.

The noise the two made attracted only the idle curiosity of a few
people. It was a locality where, even on Sundays, there was more or less
noise.

Sister begged and screamed. She feared she would spill the milk and told
Dan, Junior, so. But he only drove her the harder, yelling to her to
"Get up!" and yanking as hard as he could on the braids.

"Here! that's enough of that!" called Hiram, stepping quickly toward the
two.

For Sister had stopped exhausted, and in tears.

"Be off with you!" commanded Hiram. "You've plagued the girl enough."

"Mind your business, Hi-ram-Lo-ram!" returned Dan, Junior, grabbing at
Sister's hair again.

Hiram caught the younger boy by the shoulder and whirled him around.

"You run along to Mrs. Atterson, Sister," he said, quietly. "No, you
don't!" he added, gripping Dan, Junior, more firmly. "You'll stop right
here."

"Lemme be, Hi Strong!" bawled the other, when he found he could not
easily jerk away. "It'll be the worse for you if you don't."

"Just you wait until the girl is home," returned Hiram, laughing. It was
an easy matter for him to hold the writhing Dan, Junior.

"I'll fix you for this!" squalled the boy. "Wait till I tell my father."

"You wouldn't dare tell your father the truth," laughed Hi.

"I'll fix you," repeated Dan, Junior, and suddenly aimed a vicious kick
at his captor.

Had the kick landed where Dan, Junior, intended--under Hi's kneecap--the
latter certainly would have been "fixed." But the country youth was too
agile for him.

He jumped aside, dragged Dan, Junior, suddenly toward him, and then gave
him a backward thrust which sent the lighter boy spinning.

Now, it had rained the day before and in a hollow beside the path was
a puddle several inches deep. Dan, Junior, lost his balance, staggered
back, tripped over his own clumsy heels, and splashed full length into
it.

"Oh, oh!" he bawled, managing to get well soaked before he scrambled
out. "I'll tell my father on you, Hi Strong. You'll catch it for this!"

"You'd better run home before you catch cold," said Hiram, who could not
help laughing at the young rascal's plight. "And let girls alone another
time."

To himself he said: "Well, the goodness knows I couldn't be much more
in bad odor with Mr. Dwight than I am already. But this escapade of his
precious son ought to about 'fix' me, as Dan, Junior, says.

"Whether I want to, or not, I reckon I will be looking for another job
in a very few days."



CHAPTER II. AT MRS. ATTERSON'S

When you came into "Mother" Atterson's front hall (the young men
boarders gave her that appellation in irony) the ghosts of many ancient
boiled dinners met you with--if you were sensitive and unused to the
odors of cheap boarding houses--a certain shock.

He was starting up the stairs, on which the ragged carpet threatened to
send less agile persons than Mrs. Atterson's boarders headlong to
the bottom at every downward trip, when the clang of the gong in the
dining-room announced the usual cold spread which the landlady thought
due to her household on the first day of the week.

Hiram hesitated, decided that he would skip the meal, and started up
again. But just then Fred Crackit lounged out of the parlor, with Mr.
Peebles following him. Dyspeptic as he was, Mr. Peebles never missed a
meal himself, and Crackit said:

"Come on, Hi-Low-Jack! Aren't you coming down to the usual feast of
reason and flow of soul?"

Crackit thought he was a natural humorist, and he had to keep up his
reputation at all times and seasons. He was rather a dissipated-looking
man of thirty years or so, given to gay waistcoats and wonderfully knit
ties. A brilliant as large as a hazel-nut--and which, in some lights,
really sparkled like a diamond--adorned the tie he wore this evening.

"I don't believe I want any supper," responded Hiram, pleasantly.

"What's the matter? Got some inside information as to what Mother
Atterson has laid out for us? You're pretty thick with the old girl,
Hi."

"That's not a nice way to speak of her, Mr. Crackit," said Hi, in a low
voice.

The other boarders--those who were in the house-straggled into the
basement dining-room one after the other, and took their places at the
long table, each in his customary manner.

That dining-room at Mother Atterson's never could have been a cheerful
place. It was long, and low-ceiled, and the paper on the walls was
a dingy red, so old that the figure on it had retired into the
background--been absorbed by it, so to speak.

The two long, dusty, windows looked upon an area, and were grilled half
way up by wrought-iron screens which, too, helped to shut out the light
of day.

The long table was covered by a red figured table cloth. The "castors"
at both ends and in the middle were the ugliest--Hiram was sure--to be
found in all the city of Crawberry. The crockery was of the coarsest
kind. The knives and forks were antediluvian. The napkins were as coarse
as huck towels.

But Mrs. Atterson's food--considering the cost of provisions and the
charge she made for her table--was very good. Only it had become a habit
for certain of the boarders, led by the jester, Crackit, to criticise
the viands.

Sometimes they succeeded in making Mrs. Atterson angry; and sometimes,
Hiram knew, she wept, alone in the dining-room, after the harumscarum,
thoughtless crowd had gone.

Old Lem Camp--nobody save Hiram thought to put "Mr." before the old
gentleman's name--sidled in and sat down beside the country boy, as
usual. He was a queer, colorless sort of person--a man who never looked
into the face of another if he could help it. He would look all around
Hiram when he spoke to him--at his shoulder, his shirtfront, his hands,
even at his feet if they were visible, but never at his face.

And at the table he kept up a continual monologue. It was difficult
sometimes for Hiram to know when he was being addressed, and when poor
Mr. Camp was merely talking to himself.

"Let's see--where has Sister put my napkin--Oh! here it is--You've been
for a walk, have you, young man?--No, that's not my napkin; I didn't
spill any gravy at dinner--Nice day out, but raw--Goodness me! can't I
have a knife and fork?--Where's my knife and fork?--Sister certainly has
forgotten my knife and fork.--Oh! Here they are--Yes, a very nice day
indeed for this time of year."

And so on. It was quite immaterial to Mr. Camp whether he got an answer
to his remarks to Hiram, or not. He went on muttering to himself, all
through the meal, sometimes commenting upon what the others said at the
table--and that quite shrewdly, Hiram noticed; but the other boarders
considered him a little cracked.

Sister smiled sheepishly at Hiram as she passed the tea. She drowned
his tea with milk and put in no less than four spoonfuls of sugar. But
although the fluid was utterly spoiled for Hiram's taste he drank it
with fortitude, knowing that the girl's generosity was the child of her
gratitude; for both sugar and milk were articles very scantily supplied
at Mother Atterson's table.

The mistress herself did not appear. Now that he was down here in the
dining-room, Hiram lingered. He hated the thought of going up to his
lonely and narrow quarters at the top of the house.

The other boarders trailed out of the room and up stairs, one after
another, Old Lem Camp being the last to go. Sister brought in a dish of
hot toast between two plates and set it at the upper end of the table.
Then Mrs. Atterson appeared.

Hiram knew at once that something had gone wrong with the boarding
house mistress. She had been crying, and when a woman of the age of Mrs.
Atterson indulges in tears, her personal appearance is never improved.

"Oh, that you, Hi?" she drawled, with a snuffle. "Did you get enough to
eat?"

"Yes, Mrs. Atterson," returned the youth, starting to get up. "I have
had plenty."

"I'm glad you did," said the lady. "And you're easy 'side of most of
'em, Hiram. You're a real good boy."

"I reckon I get all I pay for, Mrs. Atterson," said her youngest
boarder.

"Well, there ain't many of 'em would say that. And they was awful
provokin' this noon. That roast of veal was just as good meat as I could
find in market; and I don't know what any sensible party would want
better than that prune pie.

"Well! I hope I won't have to keep a boarding house all my life. It's a
thankless task. An' it ties a body down so.

"Here's my uncle--my poor mother's only brother and about the only
relative I've got in the world--here's Uncle Jeptha down with the grip,
or suthin', and goodness knows if he'll ever get over it. And I can't
leave to go and see him die peaceable."

"Does he live far from here?" asked Hiram, politely, although he had no
particular reason for being interested in Uncle Jeptha.

"He lives on a farm out Scoville way. He's lived there most all his
life. He used to make a right good living off'n that farm, too; but it's
run down some now.

"The last time I was out there, two years ago, he was just keepin' along
and that's all. And now I expect he's dying, without a chick or child
of his own by him," and she burst out crying again, the tears sprinkling
the square of toast into which she continued to bite.

Of course, it was ridiculous. A middle-aged woman weeping and eating
toast and drinking strong boiled tea is not a romantic picture. But as
Hiram climbed to his room he wished with all his heart that he could
help Mrs. Atterson.

He wasn't the only person in the world who seemed to have got into
a wrong environment--lots of people didn't fit right into their
circumstances in life.

"We're square pegs in round holes--that's what we are," mused Hiram.
"That's what I am. I wish I was out of it. I wish I was back on the
farm."



CHAPTER III. A DREARY DAY

Daniel Dwight's Emporium, the general store was called, and it was in a
very populous part of the town of Crawberry. Old Daniel was a driver, he
seldom had clerks enough to handle his trade properly, and nobody could
suit him. As general helper and junior clerk, Hiram Strong had remained
with the concern longer than any other boy Daniel had hired in years.

When the early Monday morning rush was over, and there was moment's
breathing space, Hiram went to the door to re-arrange the trays of
vegetables which were his particular care. Hiram had a knack of making
a bank of the most plebeian vegetable and salads look like the
display-window of a florist.

Now the youth looked out upon a typical city street, the dwellings
on either side being four and five story tenement houses, occupied by
artisans and mechanics.

A few quarreling children paddled sticks, or sailed chip boats, in the
gutters.

"Come on, now! Get a move on you, Hi!" sounded the raucous voice of
Daniel Dwight the elder, behind him in the store.

Hiram went at his task with neither interest nor energy.

All about him the houses and the street were grimy and depressing. It
had been a gray and murky morning; but overhead a patch of sky was as
blue as June. He suddenly saw a flock of pigeons wheeling above the
tunnel of the street, and the boy's heart leaped at the sight.

He longed for freedom. He wished he could fly, up, up, up above the
housetops and the streets, like those feathered fowl.

He knew he was stagnating here in this dingy store; the deadly sameness
of his life chafed him sorely.

"I'd take another job if I could find one," he muttered, stirring up the
bunches of yellowing radish leaves and trying to make them look fresh.
"And Old Daniel is likely to give me a chance to hunt a job pretty
sudden--the way he talks. But if Dan, Junior, told him what happened
yesterday, I wonder the old gentleman hasn't been after me with a sharp
stick."

From somewhere--out of the far-distant open country where it had been
breathing all night the quivering pines, and brown swamps, and the
white and gray checkered fields that would soon be upturned by the
plowshares--a vagrant wind wandered into the city street.

The lingering, but faint perfume wafted here from God's open world to
die in this man-made town inspired in the youth thoughts and desires
that had been struggling within him for expression for days past.

"I know what I want," said Hiram Strong, aloud. "I want to get back to
the land!"

The progress of the day was not inducive to a hopeful outlook for
Hiram. When closing time came he was heartily sick of the business of
storekeeping, if he never had been before.

And when he dragged himself home to the boarding house, he found the
atmosphere there as dreary as the street itself. The boarders were
grumpy and Mrs. Atterson was in a tearful state again.

Hiram could not stay in his room. It was a narrow, cold place at the end
of the back hall at the top of the house. There was a little, painted
bureau in it, one leg of which had been replaced by a brick, and the
little glass was so blue and blurred that he never could see in it
whether his tie was straight or not.

There was a chair, a shelf for books, and a narrow folding bed. When the
bed was dropped down for his occupancy at night, he could not get the
door open. Had there ever been a fire at Atterson's at night, Hiram's
best chance for escape would have been by the window.

So this evening, to kill the miserable stretch of time until sleep
should come to him, the boy went out and walked the streets.

Two things had saved Hiram Strong from getting into bad company on these
evening rambles. One was the small amount of money he earned, and the
other was the naturally clean nature of the boy. The cheap amusements
which lured on either hand did not attract him.

But the dangers are there in every city, and they lurk for every boy in
a like position.

The main thoroughfare in this part of the town where Hiram boarded
was brightly lighted, gaudy electric signs attracting notice to cheap
picture shows, catch-penny arcades, cheap jewelry stores, and the ever
present saloons and pool rooms.

It looked bright, and warm, and lively in many of these places; but the
country-bred boy was cautious.

Now and then a raucous-voiced automobile shot along the street; the
electric cars made their usual clangor, and there was still some
ordinary traffic of the day dribbling away into the side streets, for it
was early in the evening.

Hiram was about to turn into one of these side streets on his way back
to Mrs. Atterson's. Turning the corner was a handsome span of horses
attached to a comfortable but mud-bespattered carriage. It was plainly
from the country.

The light at the corner of the street shone brightly into the carriage.
Hiram saw a well-built man in a gray greatcoat and slouch hat, holding
the reins over the backs of the spirited horses.

Beside him sat a girl. She could have been no more than twelve or
fourteen--not so old as Sister, by a year or two. But how different she
was from the starved-looking, boarding house slavey!

She was framed in furs--rich, gray and black furs that muffled her
from top to toe, only leaving her brilliant, dark little face with its
perfect features shining like a jewel in its setting.

She was talking laughingly to the big man beside her, and he was looking
down at her. Perhaps this was why he did not see what lay just ahead--or
perhaps the glare of the street light blinded him, as it must have the
horses, as the equipage turned into the darker side street.

But Hiram saw their peril. He sprang into the street with a cry of
warning. And he was lucky enough to seize the nigh horse by the bridle
and pull both the high-steppers around.

There was an excavation--an opening for a water-main--in this street.
The workmen had either neglected to leave a red lantern, or malicious
boys had stolen it.

Another moment and the horses would have been in this excavation and
even now the carriage swayed. One forward wheel went over the edge of
the hole, and for the minute it was doubtful whether Hiram had saved the
occupants of the carriage by his quick action, or had accelerated the
catastrophe.



CHAPTER IV. THE LOST CARD

Had Hiram Strong not been a muscular youth for his age, and sturdy
withal, the excited horses would have broken away from him and the
carriage would certainly have gone into the ditch.

But he had a grip on the bridle reins now that could not be broken,
although the horses plunged and struck fire from the stones of the
street with their shoes. He dragged them forward, the carriage pitched
and rolled for a moment, and then stood upright again, squarely on its
four wheels.

"All right, lad! I've got 'em!" exclaimed the gentleman in the carriage.

He had a hearty, husky sort of voice--a voice that came from deep down
in his chest and was more than a little hoarse. But there was no quiver
of excitement in it. Indeed, he who had been in peril was much less
disturbed by the incident than was Hiram himself.

Nor had the girl screamed, or otherwise voiced her terror. Now Hiram
heard her say, as he stepped back from the plunging horses:

"That is a good boy, Daddy. Speak to him again."

The man in gray laughed. He was now holding in the frightened team with
one firm hand while he fumbled in the pocket of his big coat with the
other.

"He certainly has got some muscle, that lad," announced the gentleman.
"Here, son, where can I find you when I'm in town again?"

"I work at Dwight's Emporium," replied Hiram, rather diffidently.

"All right. Thanks. Here's my card. You're the kind of a boy I like.
I'll surely look you up."

He held out the bit of pasteboard to Hiram; but as the youth stepped
nearer to reach it, the impatient horses sprang forward and the carriage
rolled swiftly by him.

The card flipped from the man's fingers. Hiram grabbed for it, but
missed the card. It fluttered into the excavation in the street and the
shadow hid it completely from the boy's gaze.

Had there been a lantern nearby, as there should have been, Hiram would
have taken it to search for the lost card. For he felt suddenly as
though Opportunity had brushed past him.

The man in the carriage evidently lived out of town. He might be a
prosperous farmer. And, being a farmer, he might be able to give Hiram
just the sort of job he was looking for.

The card, of course, would have put Hiram in touch with the man. And he
seemed like a hearty, good-natured individual.

"And the girl--his daughter--was as pretty as a picture," thought Hiram,
as he turned wearily toward the boarding house. "Well! I don't know that
I'll ever see either of them again; but if I could learn that man's name
and address I'd certainly look him up."

So much did this thought disturb him that he was up an hour earlier than
usual the next morning and hurried to work by the way of the excavation
in the street where the incident had occurred.

But he could not find the card, although he got down into the ditch to
search for it. The loose sand, perhaps, rattling down from the sides of
the excavation during the night, had buried the bit of pasteboard, and
Hiram went on to Dwight's Emporium more disheartened than ever.

The work there went worse that morning. Old Daniel Dwight drove the
young fellow from one task to another. The other clerks got a minute's
time to themselves now and then; but the proprietor of the store seemed
to have his keen eyes on Hiram continually.

There was always a slow-up in the work about ten o'clock, and Hiram had
a request to make. He asked Old Daniel for an hour off.

"An hour off--with all this work to do? What do you mean, boy?" roared
the proprietor. "What do you want an hour for?"

"I've got an errand," replied Hiram, quietly.

"Well, what is it?" snarled the old man, curiously.

"Why--it's a private matter. I can't tell you," returned the youth,
coolly.

"No good, I'll be bound--no good. I don't see why I should let you off
an hour----"

"I work many an hour overtime for you, Mr. Dwight," put in Hiram.

"Yes, yes; that's all right. That's the agreement. You knew you'd have
to when you came to work at the Emporium. Stick to your contract, boy."

"Then why don't you stick to yours?" demanded the youth, boldly.

"Eh! Eh! What do you mean by that?" cried Mr. Dwight, glaring at Hiram
through his spectacles.

"I mean that when I came to work for you seven months ago, you promised
that, if I suited after six months, you would raise my wages. And you
haven't done so," said the young fellow, firmly.

For a moment the proprietor of the Emporium was dumb. It was true. He
had promised just that. He had got the boy cheaper by so doing. But
never before had he hired a boy who stayed as long as six months, so he
had never had to raise his wages.

"Well, well!"

He stammered for a moment; then a shrewd thought came to his mind.
He actually smiled. When Mr. Dwight smiled it was worse than when he
didn't.

"I told you that if you suited me I'd raise your pay, did I?" he
snarled. "Well, you don't suit me. You never have suited me. Therefore,
you get no raise, young man."

Hiram was not astonished; he was only indignant. Another boy might have
expressed his anger by flaring up and tendering his resignation on the
spot.

But Hiram had that fear of debt in his breast which is almost always a
characteristic of the frugal, country-bred person. He had saved little.
He had no prospect of another job. And every Saturday night he was
expected to pay Mrs. Atterson three dollars and a half.

"At any rate, Mr. Dwight," he said, quietly, after a minute's silence,
"I want an hour to myself this morning."

"And I'll dock ye ten cents for it," declared the old man.

"You can do as you like about that," returned Hiram, and he walked into
the back room, took off his apron, and got into his coat.

He had it in mind to go to the big market, where the farmers drove in
from out of town, and see if he could meet one of his old neighbors,
or anybody else who could tell him of prospect of work for the coming
season. It was early yet for farmers to be looking for extra hands; but
Hiram hoped that he might see something in prospect for the future. He
had made up his mind that, if possible, he would not take another job in
town.

"And I can see pretty plainly that I've got about through at the
Emporium," he thought, as he approached the open space devoted by the
City of Crawberry to a market for the truckmen and farmers who drove in
with their wares from the surrounding country.

At this time of day the bustle of market was over. The farmers would
have had their breakfasts in the little restaurants which encircled the
market-place, or would be preparing to drive home again. The hucksters
and push-cart merchants were picking up "seconds" and lot-ends of
vegetables for their trade. The cobbles of the market-place was a litter
of cabbage leaves, spilled sprouts, spoiled potatoes, and other refuse.

Hiram walked about, looking for somebody whom he knew; but most of the
faces around the market were strange to him. Several farmers he spoke to
about work; but they were not hiring hands, so, when his hour was up, he
went back to the Emporium, more despondent than before.



CHAPTER V. THE COMMOTION AT MOTHER ATTERSON'S

By chance that evening Hiram got home to his boarding house in good
season. The early boarders--"early birds" Crackit always termed
them--had not yet sat down to the long table in the dingy dining-room.

Indeed, the supper gong had not been pounded by Sister, and some of the
young men were grouped impatiently in the half-lighted parlor.

Through the swinging door into the steaming kitchen Hiram saw a huge
black woman waddling about the range, and heard her husky voice berating
Sister for not moving faster. Chloe only appeared when a catastrophe
happened at the boarding-house--and a catastrophe meant the removal of
Mrs. Atterson from her usual orbit.

"She's gone to the funeral. That Uncle Jeptha of hern is dead,"
whispered Sister in Hiram's ear when she put his soup in front of him.

"Ah-ha!" observed Mr. Crackit, eyeing Hiram with his head on one side,
"secrets, eh? Inside information of what's in the pudding sauce?"

Nothing went right at the boarding-house during the next two days. And
for Hiram Strong nothing seemed to go right anywhere!

He demanded--and got the permission, with another ten-cent tax--another
hour off to visit the market. But he found nobody who would hire a boy
at once. Some of the farmers doubted if he knew as much about farm-work
as he claimed to know. He was, after all, a boy, and some of them would
not believe that he had even worked in the country.

Affairs at the Emporium were getting strained, too. Daniel Dwight was as
shrewd a man as the next one. He saw plainly that his junior clerk was
getting ready--like the many who had gone before him--for a flitting.

He knew the signs of discontent, although Hiram prided himself on doing
his work just as well as ever.

Then, there was a squabble with Dan, Junior. The imp was always
underfoot on Saturdays. He was supposed to help--to run errands, and
take out in a basket certain orders to nearby customers who might be in
a hurry.

But usually when you wanted the boy he was in the alley pitching buttons
with loafing urchins of his own kind--"alley rats" his father angrily
called them--or leading a predatory gang of the same unsavory companions
in raids on other stores in the neighborhood.

And Dan, Junior "had it in" for Hiram. He had not forgiven the bigger
boy for pitching him into the puddle.

"An' them was my best clo'es, and now maw says I've got to wear 'em just
the same on Sunday, and they're shrunk and stained," snarled the younger
Dan, hovering about Hiram as the latter re-dressed the fruit stand
during a moment's let-up in the Saturday morning rush. "Gimme an
orange."

"What! At five cents apiece?" exclaimed Hiram. "Guess not. Go look in
the basket under the bench; maybe there's a specked one there."

"Nope. Dad took 'em all home last night and maw cut out the specks and
sliced 'em for supper. Gimme a good orange."

"Ask your father," said Hiram.

"Naw, I won't!" declared young Dwight, knowing very well what his
father's answer would be.

He suddenly made a grab for the golden globe on the apex of Hiram's
handsomest pyramid.

"Let that alone, Dan!" cried Hiram, and seized the youngster by the
wrist.

Dan, Junior, was a wiry little scamp, and he twisted and turned, and
kicked and squalled, and Hiram was just wrenching the orange from his
hand when Mr. Dwight came to the door.

"What's this? What's this?" he demanded. "Fighting, are ye? Why don't
you tackle a fellow of your own size, Hi Strong?"

At that Dan, Junior, saw his chance and broke into woeful sobs. He was a
good actor.

"I've a mind to turn you over to a policeman, Hiram," cried "Mr. Dwight,
That's what I've a mind to do."

"I suppose you'll discharge me first, won't you?" suggested Hiram,
scornfully.

"You can come in and git your money right now, young man," said the
proprietor of the Emporium. "Dan! let them oranges alone. And don't you
go away from here. I'll want you all day to-day. I shall be short-handed
with this young scalawag leaving me in the lurch like this."

It had come so suddenly that Hiram almost lost his breath. He had part
of his wish, that was sure. He was not likely to work for Daniel Dwight
any longer.

The old man led the way back to his office. He had a little pile of
money already counted out upon the desk. It was plain that he had
intended quarreling with Hiram and getting rid of him at this time,
for he had the young fellow's wages figured up to t hat very hour--and
twenty cents deducted for the two hours Hiram had had "off."

"But that isn't fair. I'm willing to work to the end of the day. I ought
to get my wages in full for the week, save for the twenty cents," said
Hiram mildly.

To tell the truth, now that he had lost his job--unpleasant as it had
been--Hiram was more than a little troubled. He was indeed about to be
cast adrift.

"You'll git jest that sum, and not a cent more," declared Mr. Dwight,
sharply. "And if you start any trouble here I'll call in the officer on
the beat--yes, I will! I don't know but I ought to deduct the cost of
Dan, Junior's, spoiled suit, too. He says you an' he was skylarkin' on
Sunday and that's how he fell into the water."

Hiram had no answer to make to this. What was the use? He took the
money, slipped it into his pocket, and went out.

He did not linger around the Emporium. Nor was he scarcely out of sight
when a man driving a span of handsome bay horses halted his team before
the store, jumped out, and went in.

"Are you the proprietor of Dwight's Emporium?" asked the man in the
gray coat and hat, in his hearty tones. "You are? Glad to meet you! I'm
looking for a young man who works for you."

"Who's that? What do you want of him?" asked Dan, Senior, doubtfully,
and rubbing his hand, for the stranger's grip had been as hearty as his
voice.

The other laughed in his jovial way. "Why, to tell the truth, I don't
know his name. I didn't ask him. He's not much more than a boy--a sturdy
youngster with a quick way with him. He did me a service the other
evening and I wanted to see him."

"There ain't any boy working here," snapped Mr. Dwight. "Them's all
the clerks I got behind the counter--and there ain't one of 'em under
thirty, I'll be bound."

"That's so," admitted the stranger. "And although it was so dark I could
not see that fellow's face, and I didn't ask his name, I am sure he was
young."

"I jest discharged the only boy I had--and scamp enough he was," snarled
Mr. Dwight. "If you were looking for him, you'd have been sorry to find
him. I didn't know but I'd have to send for a policeman to git him off
the premises."

"What--what?"

"That's what I tell you. He was a bad egg. Mebbe he's the boy you
want--but you won't get no good of him when you find him. And I've no
idea where he's to be found now," and the old man turned his back on the
man in the gray coat and went into his office.

The stranger climbed back into his buggy and took up the lines again
with a preoccupied headshake.

"Now, I promised Lettie," he muttered, "that I'd find out all about that
boy--and maybe bring him home with me. Funny that man gave his such
a bad character. Wish I could have seen the lad's face the other
night--that would have told the story.

"Well," and he dismissed the matter with a sigh, for he was busy man,
"if he's got my card, and he is out of a job, perhaps he'll look me up.
Then we'll see."



CHAPTER VI. THIS DIDN'T GET BY HIRAM

"I've sure got plenty of time now to look for a job," observed Hiram
Strong when he was two blocks away from Dwight's Emporium. "But I
declare I don't know where to begin."

For his experience in talking with the farmers around the market had
rather dashed Hiram's hope of getting a place in the country at once. It
was too early in the season. Nor did it look so much like Spring as it
had a week ago. Already Hiram had to turn up the collar of his rough
coat, and a few flakes of snow were settling on his shoulders as he
walked.

"It's winter yet," he mused. "If I can't get something to do in the
city for a few weeks to tide me over, I'm afraid I shall have to find a
cheaper place to board than at Mother Atterson's."

After half an hour of strolling from street to street, however, Hiram
decided that there was nothing in that game. He must break in somewhere,
so he turned into the very next warehouse.

"Want a job? I'll be looking for one myself pretty soon, if business
isn't better," was the answer he got from the first man he approached.

But Hiram kept at it, and got short answers and long answers, pleasant
ones and some that were not so pleasant; but all could be summed up in
the single monosyllable:

"No!"

"I certainly am a failure here in town," Hiram thought, as he walked
through the snow-blown streets. "How foolish I was ever to have come
away from the country.

"A fellow ought to stick to the job he is fitted for--and that's sure.
But I didn't know. I thought there would be forty chances in town to one
in the country.

"And there doesn't seem to be a single chance right now. Why, I'll have
to leave Mrs. Atterson's, if I can't find a job before next week is out!

"This mean old town is over-crowded with fellows like me looking for
work. And when it comes to office positions, I haven't a high-school
diploma, nor am I fitted for that kind of a job.

"I want to be out of doors. Working in a stuffy office wouldn't suit me.
Oh, as a worker in the city I am a rank failure, and that's all there is
about it!"

He went home to supper much more tired than he would have been had he
done a full day's work at Dwight's Emporium. Indeed, the job he had lost
now loomed up in his troubled mind as much more important than it had
seemed when he had desired to change it for another.

Mother Atterson was at home. She hadn't more than taken off her bonnet,
however, and had had but a single clash with Chloe in the kitchen.

"I smelled it burnin' the minute I set my foot on the front step!"
she declared. "You can't fool my nose when it comes to smelling burned
stuff.

"Well, Hiram," she continued, too full of news to remark that he was at
home long before his time, "I saw the poor old soul laid away, at least.
I wish now I'd got Chloe in before, and gone to see Uncle Jeptha before
he was in his coffin.

"But I didn't think I could afford it, and that's a fact. We poor folks
can't have many pleasures in this world of toil and trouble!" added
the boarding house mistress, to whom even the break of a funeral, or a
death-bed visit, was in the nature of a solemn amusement.

"And there the old man went and made his will years ago, unbeknownst to
anybody, and me bein' his only blood relation, as you might say, though
it was years since I seen him much, but he remembered my mother with
love," and she began to wipe her eyes.

"Poor old man! And me with a white-faced cow that I'm afraid of my life
of, and an old horse that looks like a moth-eaten hide trunk we to
have in our garret at home when I was a little girl, and belonged to my
great-great-grandmother Atterson----

"And there's a mess of chickens that eat all day long and don't lay an
egg as far as I could see, besides a sow and a litter of six pigs that
squeal worse than the the switch-engine down yonder in the freight
yard----

"And they're all to be fed, and how I'm to do it, and feed the boarders,
too, I don't for the life of me see!" finished Mrs. Atterson, completely
out of breath.

"What do you mean?" cried Hiram, suddenly waking to the significance of
the old lady's chatter. "Do you mean he willed you these things?"

"Of course," she returned, smoothing down her best black skirt. "They
go with the house and outbuildings--`all the chattels and appurtenances
thereto', the will read."

"Why, Mrs. Atterson!" gasped Hiram. "He must have left you the farm."

"That's what I said," returned the old lady, complacently. "And what I'm
to do with it I've no more idea than the man in the moon."

"A farm!" repeated Hiram, his face flushing and his eyes beginning to
shine.

Now, Hiram Strong was not a particularly handsome youth, but in his
excitement he almost looked so.

"Eighty acres, so many rods, and so many perches," pursued Mrs.
Atterson, nodding. "That's the way it reads. The perches is in the
henhouse, I s'pose--though why the description included them and not the
hens' nests I dunno."

"Eighty acres of land!" repeated Hiram in a daze.

"All free and clear. Not a dollar against it--only encumbrances is the
chickens, the cow, the horse and the pigs," declared Mrs. Atterson. "If
it wasn't for them it might not be so bad. Scoville's an awfully nice
place, and the farm's on an automobile road. A body needn't go blind
looking for somebody to go by the door occasionally.

"And if it got so bad here finally that I couldn't make a livin' keeping
boarders," pursued the lady, "I might go out there and live in the old
house--which isn't much, I know, but it's a shelter, and my tastes are
simple, goodness knows."

"But a farm, Mrs. Atterson!" broke in Hiram. "Think what you can do with
it!"

"That's what I'd like to have, you, or somebody else tell me," exclaimed
the old lady, tartly. "I ain't got no more use for a farm than a cat has
for two tails!"

"But--but isn't it a good farm?" queried Hiram, puzzled.

"How do I know?" snapped the boarding house mistress. "I wouldn't know
one farm from another, exceptin' two can't be in exactly the same spot.
Oh! do you mean, could I sell it?"

"No----"

"The lawyer advised me not to sell just now. He said something about the
state of the real estate market in that section. Prices would be better
in a year or two. And then, the old place is mighty run down."

"That's what I mean," Hiram hastened to say. "Has it been cropped to
death? Is the soil worn out? Can't you run it and make something out of
it?"

"For pity's sake!" ejaculated the good lady, "how should I know? And I
couldn't run it--I shouldn't know how.

"I've got a neighbor-woman in the house just now to 'tend to things--and
that's costin' me a dollar and a half a week. And there'll be taxes to
pay, and--and--Well, I just guess I'll have to try and sell it now and
take what I can get.

"Though that lawyer says that if the place was fixed up a little and
crops put in it would make a thousand dollars' difference in the selling
price. That is, after a year or two.

"But bless us and save us" cried Mrs. Atterson, "I'd be swamped with
expenses before that time."

"Mebbe not," said Hiram Strong, trying to repress his eagerness. "Why
not try it?"

"Try to run that farm?" cried she. "Why, I'd jest as lief go up in one
o' those aeroplanes and try to run it. I wouldn't be no more up in the
air then than I would be on a farm," she added, grimly.

"Get somebody to run it for you--do the outside work, I mean, Mrs.
Atterson," said Hiram. "You could keep house out there just as well as
you do here. And it would be easy for you to learn to milk----"

"That whitefaced cow? My goodness! I'd just as quick learn to milk a
switch-engine!"

"But it's only her head that looks so wicked to you," laughed Hiram.
"And you don't milk that end."

"Well--mebbe," admitted Mrs. Atterson, doubtfully. "I reckon I could
make butter again--I used to do that when I was a girl at my aunt's. And
either I'd make those hens lay or I'd have their dratted heads off!

"And my goodness me! To get rid of the boarders--Oh, stop your talkin',
Hi Strong! That is too good to ever be true. Don't talk to me no more."

"But I want to talk to you, Mrs. Atterson," persisted the youth,
eagerly.

"Well, who'd I get to do the outside work--put in crops, and 'tend 'em,
and look out for that old horse?"

Hiram almost choked. This opportunity should not get past him if he
could help it!

"Let me do it, Mrs. Atterson. Give me a chance to show you what I can
do," he cried. "Let me run the farm for you!"

"Why--why do you suppose that it could be made to pay us, Hi?" demanded
his landlady, in wonder.

"Other farms pay; why not this one?" rejoined Hiram, sententiously. "Of
course," he added, his native caution coming to the surface, "I'd want
to see the place--to look it over pretty well, in fact--before I made
any agreement. And I can assure you, Mrs. Atterson, if I saw no chance
of both you and me making something out of it I should tell you so."

"But--but your job, Hiram? And I wouldn't approve of your going out
there and lookin' at the place on a Sunday."

"I'll take the early train Monday morning," said the youth, promptly.

"But what will they say at the store? Mr. Dwight----"

"He turned me off to-day," said Hiram, steadily. "So I won't lose
anything by going out there.

"I tell you what I'll do," he added briskly. "I won't have any too much
money while I'm out of a job, of course. And I shall be out there at
Scoville a couple of days looking the place over, it's probable.

"So, if you will let me keep this three dollars and a half I should
pay you for my next week's board to-night, I'll pay my own expenses out
there at the farm and if nothing comes of it, all well and good."

Mrs. Atterson had fumbled for her spectacles and now put them on to
survey the boy's earnest face.

"Do you mean to say you can run a farm, Hi Strong?" she asked.

"I do," and he smiled confidently at her.

"And make it pay?"

"Perhaps not much profit the first season; but if the farm is fertile,
and the marketing conditions are right, I know I can make it pay us both
in two years."

"I've got a little money saved up. I could sell the house in a week, for
it's always full and there are always lone women like me with a little
driblet of money to exchange for a boarding house--heaven help us for
the fools we are!" Mrs. Atterson exclaimed.

"And I expect you could raise vegetables enough to part keep us, Hi,
even if the farm wasn't a great success?"

"And eggs, and chickens, and the pigs, and milk from the cow," suggested
Hiram.

"Well! I declare, that's so," admitted Mrs. Atterson. "I'd been lookin'
on all them things as an expense. They could be made an asset, eh?"

"I should hope so," responded Hiram, smiling.

"And I could get rid of these boarders--My soul and body!" gasped
the tired woman, suddenly. "Do you suppose it's true, Hi? Get rid of
worryin' about paying the bills, and whether the boarders are all going
to keep their jobs and be able to pay regularly--And the gravy!

"Hiram Strong! If you can show me a way out of this valley of
tribulation I'll be the thankfullest woman that you ever seen. It's a
bargain. Don't you pay me a cent for this coming week. And I shouldn't
have taken it, anyway, when you're throwed out of work so. That's a
mighty mean man, that Daniel Dwight.

"You go right ahead and look that farm over. If it looks good, you come
back and we'll strike a bargain, I know. And--and--Just to think
of getting rid of this house and these boarders!" and Mrs. Atterson
finished by wiping her eyes again vigorously.



CHAPTER VII. HOW HIRAM LEFT TOWN

Hiram Strong was up betimes on Monday morning--Sister saw to that. She
rapped on his door at four-thirty.

Sometimes Hiram wondered when the girl ever slept. She was still
dragging about the kitchen or dining-room when he went to bed, and she
was first down in the morning--even earlier than Mrs. Atterson herself.

The boarding house mistress was not intentionally severe with Sister;
but the much harassed lady had never learned to make her own work easy,
so how should she be expected to be easy on Sister?

Once or twice Hiram had talked with the orphan. Sister had a dreadful
fear of returning to the "institution" from which Mrs. Atterson had
taken her. And Sister's other fearful remembrance was of an old woman
who beat her and drank much gin and water.

Not that she had been ill-treated at the institution; but she had been
dressed in an ugly uniform, and the girls had been rough and pulled her
"pigtails" like Dan, Junior.

"Once a gentleman came to see me," Sister confided to Hiram. "He was
a lawyer gentleman, the matron told me. He knew my name--but I've
forgotten it now.

"And he said that somebody who once belonged to me--or I once belonged
to them--had died and perhaps there would be some money coming to me.
But it couldn't have been the old woman I lived with, for she never had
only money enough for gin!

"Anyhow, I was glad. I axed him how much money--was it enough to treat
all the girls in the institution one round of ice-cream soda, and he
laffed, he did. And he said yes--just about enough for that, if he could
get it for me. And I ran away and told the girls.

"I promised them all a treat. But the man never came again, and by and
by the big girls said they believed I storied about it, and one night
they came and dragged me out of bed and hung me out of the window by my
wrists, till I thought my arms would be pulled right out of the sockets.
They was awful cruel--them girls. But when I axed the matron why the
man didn't come no more, she put me off. I guess he was only
foolin'," decided Sister, with a sigh. "Folks like to fool me--like Mr.
Crackit--eh?"

But Mrs. Atterson told Hiram, when he asked about Sister's meagre little
story, that the institution had promised to let her know if the lawyer
ever returned to make further inquiries about the orphan. Somebody
really had died who was of kin to the girl, but through some error the
institution had not made a proper record of her pedigree and the lawyer
who had instituted the search a seemed to have dropped out of sight.

But Hiram was not troubled by poor Sister's private affairs upon this
Monday morning. It was the beginning of a new week, indeed, to him. He
had turned over a new leaf of experience. He hoped that he was pretty
near to the end of his harsh city existence.

He hurried downstairs, long in advance of the other boarders, and Mrs.
Atterson served him some breakfast, although there was no milk for the
coffee.

"I dunno where that plague o' my life, Sister's, gone," sputtered the
old lady, fussing about, between dining-room and kitchen. "I sent her
out ten minutes ago for the milk. And if you want to get that first
train to Scoville you've got to hurry."

"Never mind the milk," laughed the young fellow. "The train's more
important this morning."

So he bolted the remainder of his breakfast, swallowed the black coffee,
and ran out.

He arrived at Scoville while the morning was still young. It was not his
intention to go at once to the Atterson farm. There were matters which
he desired to look into in addition to judging the quality of the soil
on the place and the possibility of making it pay.

He went to the storekeepers and asked questions about the prices paid
for garden truck. He walked about the town and saw the quality of
the residences, and noted what proportion of the townsfolk cultivated
gardens of their own.

There was a big girls' boarding-school, and two small, but
well-patronized hotels. The proprietors of these each owned a farm;
but they told Hiram that it was necessary for them to buy much of their
table vegetables from city produce men, as the neighboring farmers did
not grow much.

In talking with one storekeeper Hiram mentioned the fact that he was
going to look at the Atterson place with a view to farming it for its
new owner. When he walked out of the store he found himself accosted
by a lean, snaky-looking man who had stood within the store the moment
before.

"What's this widder woman goin' to do with the farm old Jeptha left
her?" inquired the man, looking at Hiram slyly.

"We don't know yet, sir, what we shall do with it," the young fellow
replied.

"You her son?"

"No. I may work for her--can't tell till I've looked at the place."

"It ain't much to look at," said the man, quickly. "I come near buying
it once, though. In fact--"

He hesitated, still eyeing Hiram sideways. The boy waited for him to
speak again. He did not wish to be impolite; but he did not like the
man's appearance.

"What do y' reckon this Mis' Atterson would sell for?" finally demanded
the man.

"She has been advised not to sell--at present."

"Who by?"

"Mr. Strickland, the lawyer."

"Humph! Mebbe I'd buy it--and give her a good price for it--right now."

"What do you consider a good price?" asked Hiram, quietly.

"Twelve hundred dollars," said the man.

"I will tell her. But I do not think she would sell for that
price--nothing like it, in fact."

"Well, mebbe she'll feel different when she comes to think it over.
No use for a woman trying to run a farm. And if she has to pay for
everything to be done, she'll be in a hole at the end of the season. I
guess she ain't thought of that?"

"It wouldn't be my place to point it out to her," returned Hiram,
"coolly, if it were so, and I wanted to work for her."

"Humph! Mebbe not. Well, my name's Pepper. Mebbe I'll be out to see her
some day," he said, and turned away.

"He's one of the people who will discourage Mrs. Atterson," thought
Hiram. "And he has an axe to grind. If I decide to take the job of
making this farm pay, I'm going to have the agreement in black and
white with Mrs. Atterson; for there will be a raft of Job's comforters,
perhaps when we get settled on the place."

It was late in the afternoon before Hiram was ready to start for the
farm itself. He had made some enquiries, and had decided to stop at a
neighbor's for overnight, instead of going to the house where a lone
woman had been left in charge by Mrs. Atterson.

The Pollocks had been recommended to Hiram, and by leaving the road
within half a mile of the Atterson farm, and cutting across the fields,
he came into the dooryard of the Pollock place. A well-grown boy, not
much older than himself, was splitting some chunks at the woodpile. He
stopped work to gaze at the visitor with much curiosity.

"From what they told me in town," Hi said, holding out his hand with a
smile, "you must be Henry Pollock?"

The boy blushed, but awkwardly took and shook Hi's hand.

"That's what they call me--Henry Pollock--when they don't call me Hen."

"Well, I'll make a bargain with you, Henry," laughed Hiram. "I don't
like to have my name cut off short, either. My name's Hiram Strong. So
if you'll agree to always call me `Hiram' I'll always call you `Henry.'"

"It's a go!" returned the other, shaking hands again. "You going to live
around here? Or are you jest visiting?"

"I don't know yet," confessed Hiram, sitting down beside the boy. "You
see, I've come out to look at the Atterson place."

"That's right over yonder. You can see the roof if you stand up," said
Henry, quickly.

Hiram stood up and, in the light of the early sunset, he caught a
glimpse of the roof in question.

"Your folks going to buy it of the old lady Uncle Jeptha left it to?"
asked Henry, with pardonable curiosity. "Or are you going to rent it?"

"What do you think of renting it?" queried Hiram, showing that he had
Yankee blood in him by answering one question with another.

"Well--it's pretty well run down, and that's a fact. The old man
couldn't do much the last few years, and them Dickersons who farmed it
for him ain't no great shakes of farmers, now I tell you!"

"Well, I want to look the farm over before I decide what I'll do," said
Hiram, slowly. "And of course I can't do that to-night. They told me in
town that sometimes you take boarders?"

"In the summer we do," returned Henry.

"Do you think your folks will put me up overnight?"

"Why, I reckon so--Hiram Strong, did you say your name was? Come right
in," added Henry, hospitably, "and I'll ask mother."



CHAPTER VIII. THE LURE OF GREEN FIELDS

The Pollocks proved to be a neighborly family--and a large one. As Henry
said, there was a "whole raft of young 'uns" younger than he was. They
made Hiram very welcome at the supper table, and showed much curiosity
about his personal affairs.

But the young fellow had been used to just such people before. They were
not a bad sort, and if they were keenly interested in the affairs of
other people, it was because they had few books and newspapers, and
small chance to amuse themselves in the many ways which city people
have.

Hiram slept with Henry that night, and Henry agreed to show the visitor
over the Atterson place the next day.

"I know every stick and stone of it as well as I do ourn," declared
Henry. "And Dad won't mind my taking time now. Later--Whew! I tell you,
we hafter just git up an' dust to make a crop. Not much chance for fun
after a week or two until the corn's laid by."

"You know all the boundaries of the Atterson farm, do you?" Hiram asked.

"Yes, sir!" replied Henry, eagerly. "And say! do you like to fish?"

"Of course; who doesn't?"

"Then we'll take some lines and hooks along--and mother'll lend us a pan
and kettle. Say! We'll start early--'fore anybody's a-stir--and I bet
there'll be a big trout jumping in the pool under the big sycamore."

"That certain-sure sounds good to me!" cried Hiram, enthusiastically.

So it was agreed, and before day, while the mist was yet rolling across
the fields, and the hedge sparrows were beginning to chirp, the two set
forth from the Pollock place, crossed the wet fields, and the road, and
set off down the slope of a long hill, following, as Henry said, near
the east boundary of the Atterson farm--the line running from the
automobile road to the river.

It was a dull spring morning. The faint breeze that stirred on the
hillside was damp, but odorous with new-springing herbs. As Hiram
and Henry descended the aisle of the pinewood, the treetops whispered
together as though curious of these bold humans who disturbed their
solitude.

"It doesn't look as though anybody had been here at the back end of old
Jeptha Atterson's farm for years," said Hiram.

"And it's a fact that nobody gets down this way often," Henry responded.

The brown tags sprung under their feet; now and then a dew-wet branch
swept Hiram's cheek, seeking with its cold fingers to stay his progress.
It was an enchanted forest, and the boy, heart-hungry from his two years
of city life, was enchanted, too!

Hiram learned from talking with his companion that at one time the
piece of thirty-year-old timber they were walking through had been
tilled--after a fashion. But it had never been properly cleared, as the
hacked and ancient stumpage betrayed.

Here and there the lines of corn rows which had been plowed when the
last crop was laid by were plainly revealed to Hiram's observing eye.
Where corn had grown once, it should grow again; and the pine timber
would more than pay for being cut, for blowing out the big stumps with
dynamite, and tam-harrowing the side hill.

Finally they reached a point where the ground fell away more abruptly
and the character of the timber changed, as well. Instead of the stately
pines, this more abrupt declivity was covered with hickory and oak. The
sparse brush sprang out of rank, black mold.

Charmed by the prospect, Hiram and Henry descended this hill and came
suddenly, through a fringe of brush, to the border of an open cove, or
bottom.

At some time this lowland, too, had been cleared and cultivated; but now
young pines, quick-springing and lush, dotted the five or six acres of
practically open land which was as level as one's palm.

It was two hundred yards, or more, in width and at the farther side
a hedge of alders and pussywillows grew, with the green mist of young
leaves upon them, and here and there a ghostly sycamore, stretching its
slender bole into the air, edged the course of the river.

Hiram viewed the scene with growing delight. His eyes sparkled and
a smile came to his lips as he crossed, with springy steps, the open
meadow on which the grass was already showing green in patches.

Between the line of the wood they had left and the breadth of the meadow
was a narrow, marshy strip into which a few stones had been cast, and on
these they crossed dry shod. The remainder of the bottom-land was firm.

"Ain't this jest a scrumptious place?" demanded Henry, and Hiram agreed.

At the river's edge they parted the bushes and looked down upon the
oily-flowing brown flood. It was some thirty feet broad and with the
melting of the snows in the mountains was so deep that no sign was
apparent here of the rocks which covered its bed.

Henry led the way up the bank of the stream toward a huge sycamore that
leaned lovingly over the water. An ancient wild grape vine, its
butt four inches through and its roots fairly in the water, had a
strangle-hold upon this decrepit forest monarch, its tendrils reaching
the sycamore's topmost branch.

Under the tree was a deep hole where flotsam leaves and twigs performed
an endless treadmill dance in the grasp of the eddy.

Suddenly, while their gaze clung to the dimpling water, there was a
flash of a bronze body--a streak of light along the surface of the
pool--and two widening circles showed where the master of the hole had
leaped for some insect prey.

"See him?" called Henry, but under his breath.

Hiram nodded, but squeezed his companion's hand for silence. He almost
held his own breath for the moment, as they moved back from the pool
with the soundless step of an Indian.

"That big feller is my meat," declared Henry.

"Go to it, boy!" urged Hiram, and set about preparing the camp.

He cut with his big jack-knife and set up a tripod of green rods in a
jiffy, skirmished for dry wood, lit his fire, filled the kettle from the
river at a little distance from the eddy, and hung it over the blaze to
boil.

Meanwhile Henry fished out a line and an envelope of hooks from an inner
pocket, cut a springy pole back on the hillside, rigged his line and
hook, and kicked a hole in the soft, rich soil until he unearthed a fat
angleworm.

With this impaled upon the hook he cautiously approached the pool under
the sycamore and cast gently. The struggling worm sank slowly; the water
wrinkled about the line; but there followed no tug at the hook, although
Henry stood patiently for several moments. He cast again, and yet again,
with like result.

"Ah, ba!" muttered Hiram, in his ear; "this fellow's appetite needs
tickling. He is being fed too well and turns up his nose at a common
earthworm, does he? Let me show you a wrinkle, Henry."

Henry drew the line ashore again and shook off the useless bait.

"You're, not fishing," Hiram continued with a grim smile. "You've just
been drowning a worm. But I'll show that old fellow sulking down below
there that he is no match this early in the spring for a pair of hungry
boys!"

He recrossed the meadow, and the stepping stones, to the wood. He had
noticed a log lying in the path as he descended the hillside. With the
toe of his boot he kicked a patch of bark from the log, and thereby lay
bare the wavering trail of a busy grub. Following the trail he quickly
found the fat, juicy insect, which immediately took the earthworm's
place upon the hook.

Again Henry cast and this time, before the grub even touched the surface
of the pool, the fish leaped and swallowed the tempting morsel, hook and
all!

There was no playing of the fish on Henry's part. A quick jerk and the
gasping spotted beauty, a pound and a quarter, or more, in weight, lay
upon the sward beside the crackling fire.

"Whoop-ee!" called Henry, excitedly. "That's Number One!"

While Hiram dexterously scaled and cleaned the first trout, Henry caught
a couple more. Hiram brought forth, too, the coffee, salt and pepper,
sugar, a piece of fat salt pork and two table knives and forks.

He raked a smooth bed in the glowing coals, sliced the pork thin, laid
some slices in the pan and set that upon the coals, where the pork began
to sputter almost at once.

The water in the kettle was boiling and he made the coffee. Then he laid
the trout upon the pan with three slices of pork upon each, and sat
back upon his haunches beside Henry enjoying the delicious odor in
anticipation of the more solid delights of breakfast.

They had hard crackers and with these, and drinking the coffee from
the kettle itself, when it was cool enough, the two boys feasted like
monarchs.

"By Jo!" exclaimed Henry. "This beats maw's soda biscuit and fat meat
gravy!"

But as he ate, Hiram's gaze traveled again and again across the
scrub-grown meadow. The lay of the land pleased him. The richness of the
soil had been revealed when they dug the earthworm.

For thousands of years the riches of yonder hillside had been washing
down upon the bottom, and this alluvial was rich beyond computation.

Here were several acres, the young farmer knew, which, however
over-cropped the remainder of Uncle Jeptha's land had been, could not be
impoverished in many seasons.

"It's as rich as cream!" muttered he, thoughtfully. "Grubbing out these
young pines wouldn't take long. There's a heavy sod and it would have
to be ploughed deeply. Then a crop of corn this year, perhaps--late corn
for fear the river might overflow it in June. And then----

"Great Scot!" ejaculated Hiram, slapping his knee, "what wouldn't grow
on this bottom land?"

"Yes, it's mighty rich," agreed Henry. "But it's a long way from the
house--and then, the river might flood it over. I've seen water running
over this bottom two feet deep--once."

They finished the al fresco meal and Hiram leaped up, inspired by his
thoughts to brisker movements.

"Whatever else this old farm has on it, I vow and declare," he said,
"this five or six acres alone might be made to pay a profit on the whole
investment!"



CHAPTER IX. THE BARGAIN IS MADE

Henry showed Hiram the "branch", a little stream flowing into the river,
which marked the westerly boundary of the farm for some ways, and they
set off up the steep bank of this stream.

This back end of the farm--quite forty acres, or half of the whole
tract--had been entirely neglected by the last owner of the property for
a great many years. It was some distance from the house, for the farm
was a long and narrow strip of land from the highway to the river, and
Uncle Jeptha had had quite all he could do to till the uplands and the
fields adjacent to his home.

They came upon these open fields--many of them filthy with dead weeds
and littered with sprouting bushes--from the rear. Hiram saw that the
fences were in bad repair and that the back of the premises gave every
indication of neglect and shiftlessness.

Perhaps not exactly the latter; Uncle Jeptha had been an old man and
unable to do much active work for some years. But he had cropped certain
of his fields "on shares" with the usual results--impoverished soil,
illy-tilled crops, and the land left in a slovenly condition which
several years of careful tillage would hardly overcome.

Now, although Hiram's father had been of the tenant class, he had farmed
other men's land as he would his own. Owners of outlying farms had been
glad to get Mr. Strong to till their fields.

He had known how to work, he knew the reasons for every bit of labor
he performed, and he had not kept his son in ignorance of them. As they
worked together the father had explained to the son what he did, and why
he did it, The results of their work spoke for themselves, and Hiram had
a retentive memory.

Mr. Strong, too, had been a great, reader--especially in the winter when
the farmer naturally has more time in-doors.

Yet he was a "twelve months farmer"; he knew that the winter, despite
the broken nature of the work, was quite as valuable to the successful
farmer as the other seasons of the year.

The elder Strong knew that men with more money, and more time for
experimenting than he had, were writing and publishing all the time
helps for the wise farmer. He subscribed for several papers, and read
and digested them carefully.

Hiram, even during his two years in the city, had continued his
subscription (although it was hard to find the money sometimes) to two
or three of those publications that his father had most approved. And
the boy had read them faithfully.

He was as up-to-date in farming lore now, if not in actual practise, as
he had been when he left the country to try his fortune in Crawberry.

Beyond the place where the branch turned back upon itself and hid its
source in the thicker timber, Hiram saw that the fields were open on
both sides of this westerly line of the farm.

"Who's our neighbor over yonder, Henry?" he asked.

"Dickerson--Sam Dickerson," said Henry. "And he's got a boy, Pete, no
older than us. Say, Hiram, you'll have trouble with Pete Dickerson."

"Oh, I guess not," returned the young farmer, laughing. "Trouble is
something that I don't go about hunting for."

"You don't have to hunt it when Pete is round," said Henry with a wry
grin. "But mebbe he won't bother you, for he's workin' near town--for
that new man that's moved into the old Fleigler place. Bronson's his
name. But if Pete don't bother you, Sam may."

"Sam's the father?"

"Yep. And one poor farmer and mean man, if ever there was one! Oh, Pete
comes by his orneriness honestly enough."

"Oh, I hope I'll have no trouble with any neighbor," said Hiram,
hopefully.

They came briskly to the outbuildings belonging to Mrs. Atterson's newly
acquired legacy. Hiram glanced into the hog lot. She looked like a good
sow, and the six-weeks-old shoats were in good condition. In a couple of
weeks they would be big enough to sell if Mrs. Atterson did not care to
raise them.

The shoats were worth six dollars a pair, too; he had inquired the day
before about them. There was practically eighteen dollars squealing in
that pen--and eighteen dollars would go a long way toward feeding the
horse and cow until there was good pasturage for them.

These animals named were in the small fenced barnyard. In the fall and
winter the old man had fed a good deal of fodder and other roughage, and
during the winter the horse and cow had tramped this coarse material,
and the stable scrapings, into a mat of fairly good manure.

He looked the horse and cow over with more care. It was a fact that
the horse looked pretty shaggy; but he had been used little during
the winter, and had been seldom curried. A ragged coat upon a horse
sometimes covers quite as many good points as the same quality of
garment does upon a man.

When Hiram spoke to the beast it came to the fence with a friendly
forward thrust of its ears, and the confidence of a horse that has been
kindly treated and looks upon even a strange human as a friend.

It was a strong and well-shaped animal, more than twelve years old,
as Hiram discovered when he opened the creature's mouth, but seemingly
sound in limb. Nor was he too large for work on the cultivator, while
sturdy enough to carry a single plow.

Hiram passed him over with a satisfactory pat on the nose and turned
to look at the white-faced cow that had so terrified Mrs. Atterson. She
wasn't a bad looking beast, either, and would freshen shortly. Her calf
would be worth from twelve to fifteen dollars if Mrs. Atterson did not
wish to raise it. Another future asset to mention to the old lady when
he returned.

The youth turned his attention to the buildings themselves--the barn,
the cart shed, the henhouse, and the smaller buildings. That famous old
decorating firm of Wind & Weather had contracted for all painting done
around the Atterson place for the many years; but the buildings were not
otherwise in a bad state of repair.

A few shingles had been blown off the roofs; here and there a board was
loose. With a hammer and a few nails, and in a few hours, many of these
small repairs could be accomplished. And a coat or two of properly
mixed and applied whitewash would freshen up the whole place and--like
charity--cover a multitude of sins.

Henry bade him good-bye now, they shook hands, and Hiram agreed to let
his new friend know at once if he decided to come with Mrs. Atterson to
the farm.

"We can have heaps of fun--you and me," declared Henry.

"It isn't so bad," soliloquized the young farmer when he was alone.
"There'd be time to put the buildings and fences in good shape before
the spring work came on with a rush. There's fertilizer enough in the
barnyard and the pig pen and the hen run--with the help of a few pounds
of salts and some bone meal, perhaps--to enrich a right smart kitchen
garden and spread for corn on that four acre lot yonder.

"Of course, this land up here on the hill needs humus. If it has been
cropped on shares, as Henry says, all the enrichment it has received
has been from commercial fertilizers. And necessarily they have made the
land sour. It probably needs lime badly.

"Yes, I can't encourage Mrs. Atterson to look for a profit in anything
this year. It will take a year to get that rich bottom into shape
for--for what, I wonder? Onions? Celery? It would raise 'em both. I'll
think about that and look over the market prospects more fully before I
decide."

For already, you see, Hiram had come to the decision that this old farm
could be made to pay. Why not? The true farmer has to have imagination
as well as the knowledge and the perseverance to grow crops. He must be
able in his mind's eye to see a field ready for the reaping before he
puts in a seed.

He did not go to the house on this occasion, but after casually
examining the tools and harness, and the like, left by the old man, he
cut off across the upper end of the farm and gave the neglected open
fields of this upper forty a casual examination.

"If she had the money to invest, I'd say buy sheep and fence these
fields and so get rid of the weeds. They've grown very foul through
neglect, and cultivating them for years would not destroy the weeds as
sheep would in two seasons.

"But wire fencing is expensive--and so are good sheep to begin with. No.
Slow but sure must be our motto. I mustn't advise any great outlay of
money--that would scare her to death.

"It will be hard enough for her to put out money all season long before
there are any returns. We'll go, slow," repeated Hiram.

But when he left the farm that afternoon he went swiftly enough to
Scoville and took the train for the not far distant city of Crawberry.
This was Tuesday evening and he arrived just about supper time at Mrs.
Atterson's.

The reason for Hiram's absence, and the matter of Mrs. Atterson's legacy
altogether, had been kept from the boarders. And there was no time until
after the principal meal of the day was off the lady's mind for Hiram to
say anything to her.

"She's a good old soul," thought Hiram. "And if it's in my power to make
that farm pay, and yield her a competency for her old age, I'll do it."

Meanwhile he was not losing sight of the fact that there was something
due to him in this matter. He was bound to see that he got his
share--and a just share--of any profits that might accrue from the
venture.

So, after the other boarders had scattered, and Mrs. Atterson had eaten
her own late supper, and Sister was swashing plates and knives and forks
about in a big pan of hot water in the kitchen sink, (between whiles
doing her best to listen at the crack of the door) the landlady and
Hiram Strong threshed out the project fully.

It was not all one-sided; for Mrs. Atterson, after all, had been
bargaining all her life and could see the "main chance" as quickly as
the next one. She had not bickered with hucksters, chivvied grocerymen,
fought battles royal with butchers, and endured the existence of a Red
Indian amidst allied foes for two decades without having her wits ground
to a razor edge.

On the other hand, Hiram Strong, although a boy in years, had been his
own master long enough to take care of himself in most transactions, and
withal had a fund of native caution. They jotted down memoranda of the
points on which they were agreed, which included the following:

Mrs. Atterson, as "party of the first part", agreed to board Hiram until
the crops were harvested the second year. In addition she was to pay
him one hundred dollars at Christmas time this first year, and another
hundred at the conclusion of the agreement--i. e., when the second
year's crop was harvested.

Beside, of the estimated profits of the second year's crop, Hiram was
to have twenty-five per cent. This profit was to be that balance in the
farm's favor (if such balance there was) over and above the actual cost
of labor, seed, and such purchased fertilizer or other supplies as were
necessary. Mrs. Atterson agreed likewise to supply one serviceable horse
and such tools as might be needed, for the place was to be run as "a
one-horse farm."

On the other hand Hiram agreed to give his entire time to the farm, to
work for Mrs. Atterson's interest in all things, to make no expenditures
without discussing them first with her, and to give his best care and
attention generally to the farm and all that pertained thereto. Of
course, the old lady was taking Hiram a good deal on trust. But she had
known the boy almost two years and he had been faithful and prompt in
discharging his debts to her.

But it was up to the young fellow to "make good." He could not expect
to make any profit for his employer the first year; but he would be
expected to do so the second season, or "show cause."


When these matters were all discussed and the little memorandum
signed, Hiram Strong, in his own room, thought the situation over very
seriously. He was facing the biggest responsibility that he had obliged
to assume in his whole life.

This was no boyish job; it was man's work. He had put his hand to an
agreement that might influence his whole future, and certainly would
make or break his credit as a trustworthy youth and one of his word.

During these past days Hiram had determined to "get back to the soil"
and to get back to it in a business-like way. He desired to make good
for Mrs. Atterson so that he might some time have the chance to make
good for somebody else on a bigger scale.

He did not propose to be "a one-horse farmer" all his days.



CHAPTER X. THE SOUND OF BEATING HOOFS

On Monday morning Mrs. Atterson put her house in the agent's hands. On
Wednesday a pair of spinster ladies came to look at it. They came again
on Thursday and again on Friday.

Friday being considered an "unlucky" day they did not bind the bargain;
but on Saturday money was passed, and the new keepers of the house were
to take possession in a week. Not until then were the boarders informed
of Mother Atterson's change of circumstances, and the fact that she was
going to graduate from the boarding house kitchen to the farm.

After all, they were sorry--those light-headed, irresponsible young
men. There wasn't one of them, from Crackit down the line, who could
not easily remember some special kindness that marked the old lady's
intercourse with him.

As soon as the fact was announced that the boarding house had changed
hands, the boarders were up in arms. There was a wild gabble of voices,
over the supper table that night. Crackit led the chorus.

"It's a mean trick. Mother Atterson has sold us like so many cattle to
the highest bidder. Ungrateful--right down ungrateful, I call it," he
declared. "What do you say, Feeble?"

"It is particularly distasteful to me just now," complained the invalid.
"When Sister has learned to give me my hot water at just the right
temperature," and he took a sip of that innocent beverage. "Don't you
suppose we could prevail upon the old lady to renig?"

"She's bound to put us off with half rations for the rest of the time
she stays," declared Crackit, shaking his head wisely. "She's got
nothing to lose now. She don't care if we all up and leave--after she
gets hers."

"That's always the way," feebly remarked Mr. Peebles. "Just as soon as I
really get settled down into a half-decent lodging, something happens."

Mr. Peebles had been a fixture at Mother Atterson's for nearly ten
years. Only Old Lem Camp had been longer at the place.

The latter was the only boarder who had no adverse criticism for the
mistress's new move. Indeed this evening Mr. Camp said nothing whatever;
even his usual mumblings to himself were not heard.

He ate slowly, and but little. He was still sitting at the table when
all the others had departed.

Mrs. Atterson started into the dining-room with her own supper between
two plates when she saw the old man sitting there despondent in looks
and attitude, his head resting on one clawlike hand, his elbow on the
soiled table cloth.

He did not look up, nor move. The mistress glanced back over her
shoulder, and there was Sister, sniffling and occasionally rubbing her
wrist into her red eyes as she scraped the tower of plates from the
dinner table.

"My soul and body!" gasped Mother Atterson, almost dropping her supper
on the floor. "There's Sister--and there's Old Lem Camp! Whatever will I
do with 'em?"

Meanwhile Hiram Strong had already left for the farm on the Wednesday
previous. The other boarders knew nothing about his agreement with
Mother Atterson; he had agreed to go to the place and begin work, and
take care of the stock and all, "choring for himself", as the good lady
called it, until she could complete her city affairs and move herself
and her personal chattels to the farm.

Hiram bore a note to the woman who had promised to care for the Atterson
place, and money to pay her what the boarding-house mistress had agreed.

"You can 'bach' it in the house as well as poor old Uncle Jeptha did, I
reckon," this woman told the youth.

She showed him where certain provisions were--the pork barrel, ham and
bacon of the old man's curing, and the few vegetables remaining from the
winter's store.

"The cow was about gone dry, anyway," said the woman, Mrs. Larriper, who
was a widow and lived with her married daughter some half-mile down the
road toward Scoville, "so I didn't bother to milk her.

"You'll have to go to town to buy grain, if you want to feed her up--and
for the chickens and the horse. The old man didn't make much of a crop
last year--or them shiftless Dickersons didn't make much for him.

"I saw Sam Dickerson around here this morning. He borrowed some of the
old man's tools when Uncle Jeptha was sick, and you'll have to go after
'em, I reckon.

"Sam's the best borrower that ever was; but he never can remember to
bring things back. He says it's bad enough to have to borrow; it's too
much to expect the same man to return what he borrows.

"Now, Mrs. Dickerson," pursued Mrs. Larriper, "was as nice a girl before
she married--she was a Stepney--as ever walked in shoe-leather. And I
guess she'd be right friendly with the neighbors if Sam would let her.

"But the poor thing never gits to go out--no, sir! She's jest tied to
the house. They lost a child once--four year ago. That's the only time
I remember of seeing Sarah Stepney in church since the day she was
married--and she's got a boy--Pete--as old as you be.

"Now, on the other side o' ye there's Darrell's tract, and you won't
have no trouble there, for there ain't a house on his place, and he lets
it lie idle. Waiting for a rise in price, I 'spect.

"Some rich folks is comin' in and buying up pieces of land and making
what they calls 'gentlemen's estates' out o' them. A family named
Bronson--Mr. Stephen Bronson, with one little girl--bought the Fleigler
place only last month.

"They're nice folks," pursued this amiable but talkative lady, "and
they don't live but a mile or so along the Scoville road. You passed the
place--white, with green shutters, and a water-tower in the back, when
you walked up."

"I remember it," said Hiram, nodding.

"They're western folk. Come clear from out in Injiany, or Illiny, or
the like. The girl's going to school and she ain't got no mother, so her
father's come on East with her to be near the school.

"Well, I can't help you no more. Them hens! Well, I'd sell 'em if I was
Mis' Atterson.

"Hens ain't much nowadays, anyhow; and I expect a good many of those are
too old to lay. Uncle Jeptha couldn't fuss with chickens, and he didn't
raise only a smitch of 'em last year and the year before--just them that
the hens hatched themselves in stolen nests, and chanced to bring up
alive.

"You better grease the cart before you use it. It's stood since they
hauled in corn last fall.

"And look out for Dickerson. Ask him for the things he borrowed. You'll
need 'em, p'r'aps, if you're goin' to do any farmin' for Mis' Atterson."

She bustled away. Hiram thought he had heard enough about his neighbors
for a while, and he went out to look over the pasture fencing, which was
to be his first repair job. He would have that ready to turn the cow and
her calf into as soon as the grass began to grow.

He rummaged about in what had been half woodshed and half workshop
in Uncle Jeptha's time, and found a heavy claw-hammer, a pair of wire
cutters, and a pocket full of fence staples.

With this outfit he prepared to follow the line fence, which was
likewise the pasture fence on the west side, between Mrs. Atterson's and
Dickerson's.

Where he could, he mended the broken strands of wire. In other places
the wires had sagged and were loose. The claw-hammer fixed these like
a charm. Slipping the wire into the claw, a single twist of the wrist
would usually pick up the sag and make the wire taut again at that
point.

He drove a few staples, as needed, as he walked along. The pasture
partook of the general conformation of the farm--it was rather long and
narrow.

It had grown to clumps of bushes in spots, and there was sufficient
shade. But he did not come to the water until he reached the lower end
of the lot.

The branch trickled from a spring, or springs, farther east. It made
an elbow at the corner of the pasture--the lower south-west corner--and
there a water-hole had been scooped out at some past time.

This waterhole was deep enough for all purposes, and was shaded by a
great oak that had stood there long before the house belonging to Jeptha
Atterson had been built.

Here Hiram struck something that puzzled him. The boundary fence crossed
this water-hole at a tangent, and recrossed to the west bank of the
outflowing branch a few yards below, leaving perhaps half of the
water-hole upon the neighbor's side of the fence.

Some of this wire at the water-hole was practically new. So were the
posts. And after a little Hiram traced the line of old postholes which
had followed a straight line on the west side of the water-hole.

In other words, this water-privilege for Dickerson's land was of recent
arrangement--so recent indeed, that the young farmer believed he could
see some fresh-turned earth about the newly-set posts.

"That's something to be looked into, I am afraid," thought Hiram, as he
moved along the southern pasture fence.

But the trickle of the branch beckoned him; he had not found the
fountain-head of the little stream when he had walked over a part of the
timbered land with Henry Pollock, and now he struck into the open woods
again, digging into the soil here and there with his heavy boot, marking
the quality and age of the timber, and casting-up in his mind the
possibilities and expense of clearing these overgrown acres.

"Mrs. Atterson may have a very valuable piece of land here in time,"
muttered Hiram. "A sawmill set up in here could cut many a hundred
thousand feet of lumber--and good lumber, too. But it would spoil the
beauty of the farm."

However, as must ever be in the case of the utility farm, the house was
set on its ugliest part. The cleared fields along the road had nothing
but the background of woods on the south and east to relieve their
monotony.

On the brow of the steeper descent, which he had noted on his former
visit to the back end of the farm, he found a certain clearing in the
wood. Here the pines surrounded the opening on three sides.

To the south, through a break in the wooded hillside, he obtained a
far-reaching view of the river valley as it lay, to the east and to the
west. The prospect was delightful.

Here and there, on the farther bank of the river, which rose less
abruptly there than on this side, lay several cheerful looking
farmsteads. The white dwellings and outbuildings dotted the checkered
fields of green and brown.

Cowbells tinkled in the distance, for the weather tempted farmers to let
their cattle run in the pastures even so early in the season. A horse
whinnied shrilly to a mate in a distant field.

The creaking of the heavy wheels of a laden farm-cart was a mellow sound
in Hiram's ears. Beyond a fir plantation, high on the hillside, the
sharply outlined steeple of a little church lay against the soft blue
horizon.

"A beauty-spot!" Hiram muttered. "What a site for a home! And yet people
want to build their houses right on an automobile road, and in sight of
the rural mail box!"

His imagination began to riot, spurred by the outlook and by the nearer
prospect of wood and hillside. The sun now lay warmly upon him as he sat
upon a stump and drank in the beauty of it all.

After a time his ear, becoming attuned to the multitudinous voices
of the wood, descried the silvery note of falling water. He arose and
traced the sound.

Less than twenty yards away, and not far from the bluff, a vigorous
rivulet started from beneath the half-bared roots of a monster beech,
and fell over an outcropping boulder into a pool so clear that sand
on its bottom, worked mysteriously into a pattern by the action of the
water, lay revealed.

Hiram knelt on a mossy rock beside the pool, and bending put his lips
to the water. It was the sweetest, most satisfying drink, he had imbibed
for many a day.

But the morning was growing old, and Hiram wanted to trace the farther
line of the farm. He went down to the river, crossed the open meadow
again where they had built the campfire the morning before, and found
the deeply scarred oak which stood exactly on the boundary line between
the Atterson and Darrell tracts.

He turned to the north, and followed the line as nearly as might be. The
Darrell tract was entirely wooded, and when he reached the uplands
he kept on in the shadowy aisles of the sap-pines which covered his
neighbor's property.

He came finally to where the ground fell away again, and the yellow,
deeply-rutted road lay at his feet. The winter had played havoc with the
automobile track.

The highway was unfenced and the bank dropped fifteen feet to the beaten
path. A leaning oak overhung the road and Hiram lingered here, lying
on its broad trunk, face upward, with his hat pulled over his eyes to
shield them from the sunlight which filtered through the branches.

This land hereabout was beautiful. The boy could appreciate the beauty
as well as the utility of the soil. It was so pleasing to the eye that
he wished with all his heart it had been his own land he had surveyed.

"And I'll not be a tenant farmer all my life, nor a farm-foreman, as
father was," determined the boy. "I'll get ahead. If I work for the
benefit of other people for a few years, surely I'll win the chance in
time to at last work for myself."

In the midst of his ruminations a sound broke upon his ear--a jarring
note in the peaceful murmur of the woodland life. It was the thud of a
horse's hoofs.

Not the sedate tunk-tunk of iron-shod feet on the damp earth, but
an erratic and rapid pounding of hoof-beats which came on with such
startling swiftness that Hiram sat up instantly, and craned his neck to
see up the road.

"That horse is running away!" gasped the young farmer, and he swung
himself out upon the lowest branch of the leaning tree which overhung
the carttrack, the better to see along the highway.



CHAPTER XI. A GIRL RIDES INTO THE TALE

There was no bend in the highway for some distance, but the overhanging
trees masked the track completely, save for a few hundred yards. The
horse, whether driven or running at large, was plainly spurred by
fright.

Into the peacefulness of this place its hoof-beats were bringing the
element of peril.

Lying prostrate on the sloping trunk, Hiram could see much farther up
the road. The outstretched head and lathered breast of a tall bay horse
leaped into view, and like a picture in a kinetoscope, growing larger
and more vivid second by second, the maddened animal came down the road.

Hiram could see that the beast was not riderless, but it was a moment
or two--a long-drawn, anxious space of heart-beaten seconds--ere he
realized what manner of rider it was who clung so desperately to the
masterless creature.

"It's a girl--a little girl!" gasped Hiram.

She was only a speck of color, with white, drawn face, on the back of
the racing horse.

Every plunge of the oncoming animal shook the little figure as though
it must fall from the saddle. But Hiram could see that she hung with
phenomenal pluck to the broken bridle and to the single horn of her
side-saddle.

If the horse fell, or if she were shaken free, she would be flung to
instant death, or be fearfully bruised under the pounding hoofs of the
big horse.

The young farmer's appreciation of the peril was instant; unused as he
was to meeting such emergency, there was neither panic nor hesitancy in
his actions.

He writhed farther out upon the limb of the leaning oak until he was
direct above the road. The big bay naturally kept to the middle, for
there was no obstruction in its path.

To have dropped to the highway would have put Hiram to instant
disadvantage; for before he could have recovered himself after the drop
the horse would have been upon him.

Now, swinging with both legs wrapped around the tough limb, and his left
hand gripping a smaller branch, but with his back to the plunging brute,
the youth glanced under his right armpit to judge the distance and the
on-rush of the horse and its helpless rider.

He knew she saw him. Swift as was the steed's approach, Hiram had seen
the change come into the expression of the girl's face.

"Clear your foot of the stirrup!" he shouted, hoping the girl would
understand.

With a confusing thunder of hoofbeats the bay came on--was beneath
him--had passed!

Hiram's right arm shot out, curved slightly, and as his fingers gripped
her sleeve, the girl let go. She was whisked out of the saddle and the
horse swept on without her.

The strain of the girl's slight weight upon his arm lasted but a moment,
for Hiram let go with his feet, swung down, and dropped.

They alighted in the roadway with so slight a jar that he scarcely
staggered, but set the girl down gently, and for the passing of a breath
her body swayed against him, seeking support.

Then she sprang a little away, and they stood looking at each
other--Hiram panting and flushed, the girl with wide-open eyes out of
which the terror had not yet faded, and cheeks still colorless.

So they stood, for fully half a minute, speechless, while the thunder of
the bay's hoofs passed further and further away and finally was lost in
the distance.

And it wasn't excitement that kept the boy dumb; for that was all over,
and he had been as cool as need be through the incident. But it
was unbounded amazement that made him stare so at the slight girl
confronting him.

He had seen her brilliant, dark little face before. Only once--but that
one occasion had served to photograph her features on his memory.

For the second time he had been of service to her; but he knew
instantly--and the fact did not puzzle him--that she did not recognize
him.

It had been so dark in the unlighted side street back in Crawberry the
evening of their first meeting that Hiram believed (and was glad) that
neither she nor her father would recognize him as the boy who had kept
their carriage from going into the open ditch.

And he had played rescuer again--and in a much more heroic manner.
This was the daughter of the man whom he had thought to be a prosperous
farmer, and whose card Hiram had lost.

He had hoped the gentleman might have a job for him; but now Hiram was
not looking for a job. He had given himself heartily to the project of
making the old Atterson farm pay; nor was he the sort of fellow to show
fickleness in such a project.

Before either Hiram or the girl broke the silence--before that silence
could become awkward, indeed--there started into hearing the ring of
rapid hoofbeats again. But it was not the runaway returning.

The mate of the latter appeared, and he came jogging along the road,
very much in hand, the rider seemingly quite unflurried.

This was a big, ungainly, beak-nosed boy, whose sleeves were much too
short, and trousers-legs likewise, to hide Nature's abundant gift to him
in the matter of bone and knuckle. He was freckled and wore a grin that
was not even sheepish.

Somehow, this stolidity and inappreciation of the peril the girl had so
recently escaped, made Hiram feel sudden indignation.

But the girl herself took the lout to task--before Hiram could say a
word.

"I told you that horse could not bear the whip, Peter!" she exclaimed,
with wrathful gaze. "How dared you strike him?"

"Aw--I only touched him up a bit," drawled the youth. "You said you
could ride anything, didn't you?" and his grin grew wider. "But I see ye
had to get off."

Here Hiram could stand it no longer, and he blurted out:

"She might have been killed! I believe that horse is running yet----"

"Well, why didn't you stop it?" demanded the other youth, "impudently.
You had a chance."

"He saved me," cried the girl, looking at Hiram now with shining eyes.
"I don't know how to thank him."

"He might have stopped the horse while he was about it," growled the
fellow, picking up his own reins again. "Now I'll have to ride after
it."

"You'd better," said the little lady, sharply. "If father knew that
horse had run away with me he would be dreadfully put out. You hurry
after him, Peter."

The lout never said a word in reply, but his horse carried him swiftly
out of sight in the wake of the runaway. Then the girl turned again to
Hiram and the young farmer knew that he was being keenly examined by her
bright black eyes.

"I am very sure father will not keep him," declared the girl, looking at
Hiram thoughtfully. "He is too careless--and I don't like him, anyway.
Do you live around here?"

"I expect to," replied Hiram, smiling. "I have just come. I am going to
stay at this next house, along the road."

"Oh! where the old gentleman died last week?"

"Yes. Mrs. Atterson was left the place by her uncle, and I am going to
run it for her."

"Oh, dear! then you've got a place to work?" queried the little lady,
with plain disappointment in her tone. "I am sure father would like to
have you instead of Peter."

But Hiram shook his head slowly, though still smiling,

"I'm obliged to you," he said; "but I have agreed to stop with Mrs.
Atterson for a time."

"I want father to meet you just the same," she declared.

She had a way about her that impressed Hiram with the idea that she
seldom failed in getting what she wanted. If she was not a spoiled
child, she certainly was a very much indulged one.

But she was pretty! Dark, petite, with a brilliant smile, flashing
eyes, and a riot of blue-black curls, she was verily the daintiest and
prettiest little creature the young farmer had ever seen.

"I am Lettie Bronson," she said, frankly. "I live down the road toward
Scoville. We have only just come here."

"I know where you live," said Hiram, smiling and nodding.

"You must come and see us. I want you to know father. He's the very
nicest man there is, I think."

"He came all the way East here so as to live near my school--I go to the
St. Beris school in Scoville. It's awfully nice, and the girls are very
fashionable; but I'd be too lonely to live if daddy wasn't right near me
all the time.

"What is your name?" she asked suddenly.

Hiram told her.

"Why! that's a regular farmer's name, isn't it--Hiram?" and she
laughed--a clear and sweet sound, that made an inquisitive squirrel that
had been watching them scamper away to his hollow, chattering.

"I don't know about that," returned the young farmer, shaking his
head and smiling. "I ought by good rights to be 'a worker in brass',
according to the Bible. That was the trade of Hiram, of the tribe of
Naphtali, who came out of Tyre to make all the brass work for Solomon's
temple."

"Oh! and there was a King Hiram, of Tyre, too, wasn't there," cried
Lettie, laughing. "You might be a king, you know."

"That seems to be an unprofitable trade now-a-days," returned the young
fellow, shaking his head. "I think I will be the namesake of Hiram, the
brass-smith, for it is said of him that he was 'filled with wisdom and
understanding' and that is what I want to be if I am going to run Mrs.
Atterson's farm and make it pay."

"You're a funny boy," said the girl, eyeing him furiously.
"You're--you're not at all like Pete--or these other boys about
Scoville."

"And that Pete Dickerson isn't any good at all! I shall tell daddy all
about how he touched up that horse and made him run. Here he comes now!"

They had been walking steadily along the road toward the Atterson house,
and in the direction the runaway had taken. Pete Dickerson appeared,
riding one of the bays and leading the one that had been frightened.

The latter was all of a lather, was blowing hard, and before the horses
reached them, Hiram saw that the runaway was in bad shape.

"Hold on!" he cried to the lout. "Breathe that horse a while. Let him
stand. He ought to be rubbed down, too. Don't you see the shape he is
in?"

"Aw, what's eatin' you?" demanded Pete, eyeing the speaker with much
disfavor.

The horse, when he stopped, was trembling all over. His nostrils were
dilated and as red as blood, and strings of foam were dripping from his
bit.

"Don't let him stand there in the shade," spoke Hiram, more "mildly.
He'll take a chill. Here! let me have him."

He approached the still frightened horse, and Pete jerked the
bridle-rein. The horse started back and snorted.

"Stand 'round there, ye 'tarnal nuisance!" exclaimed Pete.

But Hiram caught the bridle and snatched it from the other fellow's
hand.

"Just let me manage him a minute," said Hiram, leading the horse into
the sunshine.

He patted him, and soothed him, and the horse ceased trembling and his
ears pricked up. Hiram, still keeping the reins in his hand, loosened
the cinches and eased the saddle so that the animal could breathe
better.

There were bunches of dried sage-grass growing by the roadside, and the
young farmer tore off a couple of these bunches and used them to wipe
down the horse's legs. Pretty soon the creature forgot his fright and
looked like a normal horse again.

"If he was mine I'd give him whip a-plenty--till he learned better,"
drawled Pete Dickerson, finally.

"Don't you ever dare touch him with the whip again!" cried the girl,
stamping her foot. "He will not stand it. You were told----"

"Aw, well," said the fellow, "'I didn't think he was going to cut up as
bad as that. These Western horses ain't more'n half broke, anyway."

"I think he is perfectly safe for you to ride now, Miss Bronson," said
Hiram, quietly. "I'll give you a hand up. But walk him home, please."

He had tightened the cinches again. Lettie put her tiny booted foot in
his hand (she wore a very pretty dark green habit) and with perfect ease
the young farmer lifted her into the saddle.

"Good-bye--and thank you again!" she said, softly, giving him her free
hand just as the horse started.

"Say! you're the fellow who's going to live at Atterson's place?"
observed Pete. "I'll see you later," and he waved his hand airily as he
rode off.

"So that's Pete Dickerson, is it?" ruminated Hiram, as he watched the
horses out of sight. "Well, if his father, Sam, is anything like him, we
certainly have got a sweet pair of neighbors!"



CHAPTER XII. SOMETHING ABOUT A PASTURE FENCE

That afternoon Hiram hitched up the old horse and drove into town.

He went to see the lawyer who had transacted Uncle Jeptha Atterson's
small business in the old man's lifetime, and had made his will--Mr.
Strickland. Hiram judged that this gentleman would know as much about
the Atterson place as anybody.

"No--Mr. Atterson never said anything to me about giving a neighbor
water-rights," the lawyer said. "Indeed, Mr. Atterson was not a man
likely to give anything away--until he had got through with it himself.

"Dickerson once tried to buy a right at that corner of the Atterson
pasture; but he and the old gentleman couldn't come to terms.

"Dickerson has no water on his place, saving his well and his rights on
the river. It makes it bad for him, I suppose; but I do not advise Mrs.
Atterson to let that fence stand. Give that sort of a man an inch and
he'll take a mile."

"But what shall I do?"

"That's professional advice, young man," returned the lawyer, "smiling.
But I will give it to you without charge.

"Merely go and pull the new posts up and replace them on the line. If
Dickerson interferes with you, come to me and we'll have him bound over
before the Justice of the Peace.

"You represent Mrs. Atterson and are within her rights. That's the best
I can tell you."

Now, Hiram was not desirous of starting any trouble--legal or
otherwise--with a neighbor; but neither did he wish to see anybody take
advantage of his old boarding mistress. He knew that, beside farming
for her, he would probably have to defend her from many petty annoyances
like the present case.

So he bought the wire he needed for repairs, a few other things that
were necessary, and drove back to the farm, determined to go right ahead
and await the consequences.

Among his purchases was an axe. In the workshop on the farm was a fairly
good grindstone; only the treadle was broken and Hiram had to repair
this before he could make much headway in grinding the axe. Henry
Pollock lived too far away to be called upon in such a small emergency.

Being obliged to work alone sharpens one's wits. The young farmer had to
resort to shifts and expedients on every hand, as he went along.

The day before, while wandering in the wood, he had marked several white
oaks of the right size for posts. He would have preferred cedars, of
course; but those trees were scarce on the Atterson tract--and they
might be needed for some more important job later on.

When he came up to the house at noon to feed the stock and make his own
frugal meal in the farm house kitchen, the posts were cut. After dinner
he harnessed the horse to the farm wagon, and went down for the posts,
taking the rolls of wire along to drop beside the fence.

The horse was a steady, willing creature, and seemed to have no tricks.
He did not drive very well on the road, of course; but that wasn't what
they needed a horse for.

Driving was a secondary matter.

Hiram loaded his posts and hauled them to the pasture, driving inside
the fence line and dropping a post wherever one had rotted out.

Yet posts that had rotted at the ground were not so easy to draw out, as
the young farmer very well knew, and he set his wits to work to make the
removal of the old posts easy of accomplishment.

He found an old, but strong, carpenter's horse in the shed, to act as
a fulcrum, and a seasoned bar of hickory as a lever. There was never
an old farm yet that didn't have a useful heap of junk, and Hiram had
already scratched over Uncle Jeptha's collection of many years' standng.

He found what he sought in a wrought iron band some half inch in
thickness with a heavy hook attached to it by a single strong link.
He fitted this band upon the larger end of the hickory bar, wedging it
tightly into place.

A short length of trace chain completed his simple post-puller. And he
could easily carry the outfit from place to place as it was needed.

When he found a weak or rotting post, he pulled the staples that held
the strands of wire to it and and then set the trestle alongside the
post. Resting the lever on the trestle, he dropped the end link of the
chain on the hook, looped the chain around the post, and hooked on with
another link. Bearing down on the lever brought the post out of the
ground every time.

With a long-handled spade Hiram cleaned out the old holes, or enlarged
them, and set his new posts, one after the other. He left the wires to
be tightened and stapled later.

It was not until the next afternoon that he worked down as far as the
water-hole. Meanwhile he had seen nothing of the neighbors and neither
knew, nor cared, whether they were watching him or not.

But it was evident that the Dickersons had kept tabs on the young
farmer's progress, for, he had no more than pulled the posts out of
the water-hole and started to reset them on the proper line, than the
long-legged Pete Dickerson appeared.

"Hey, you!" shouted Pete. "What are you monkeying with that line fence
for?"

"Because I won't have time to fix it later," responded Hiram, calmly.

"Fresh Ike, ain't yer?" demanded young Dickerson.

He was half a head taller than Hiram, and plainly felt himself safe in
adopting bullying tactics.

"You put them posts back where you found 'em and string the wires again
in a hurry--or I'll make yer."

"This is Mrs. Atterson's fence," said Hiram, quietly. "I have made
inquiries about the line, and I know where it belongs."

"No part of this water-hole belongs on your side of the fence,
Dickerson, and as long as I represent Mrs. Atterson it's not going to be
grabbed."

"Say! the old man gave my father the right to a part of this hole long
ago."

"Show your legal paper to that effect," promptly suggested Hiram. "Then
we will let it stand until the lawyers decide the matter."

Pete was silent for a minute; meanwhile Hiram continued to dig his hole,
and finally set the first post into place.

"I tell you to take that post out o' there, Mister," exclaimed Pete,
suddenly approaching the other. "I don't like you, anyway. You helped
git me turned off up there to Bronson's yesterday. If you wouldn't have
put your fresh mouth in about the horse that gal wouldn't have knowed
so much to tell her father. Now you stop foolin' with this fence or I'll
lick you."

Hiram Strong's disposition was far from being quarrelsome. He only
laughed at first and said:

"Why, that won't do you any good in the end, Peter. Thrashing me won't
give you and your father the right to usurp rights at this water-hole.

"There was very good reason, as I can see, for old Mr. Atterson refusing
to let you water your stock here. In time of drouth the branch probably
furnished no more water than his own cattle needed. And it will be the
same with my employer."

"You'd better have less talk about it, and set back them posts,"
declared Pete, decidedly, laying off his coat and pulling up his shirt
sleeves.

"I hope you won't try anything foolish, Peter," said Hiram, resting on
his shovel handle.

"Huh!" grunted Pete, eyeing him sideways as might an evil-disposed dog.

"We're not well matched," observed Hiram, quietly, "and whether you
thrashed me, or I thrashed you, nothing would be proved by it in regard
to the line fence."

"I'll show you what I can prove!" cried Pete, and rushed for him.

In a catch-as-catch-can wrestle Pete Dickerson might have been able
to overturn Hiram Strong. But the latter did not propose to give the
long-armed youth that advantage.

He dropped the spade, stepped nimbly aside, and as Pete lunged past
him the young farmer doubled his fist and struck his antagonist solidly
under the ear.

That was the only blow struck--that and the one when Pete struck the
ground. The bigger fellow rolled over, grunted, and gazed up at Hiram
with amazement struggling with the rage expressed in his features.

"I told you we were not well matched, Peter," spoke Hiram, calmly. "Why
fight about it? You have no right on your side, and I do not propose to
see Mrs. Atterson robbed of this water privilege."

Pete climbed to his feet slowly, and picked up his coat. He felt of his
neck carefully and then looked at his hand, with the idea evidently that
such a heavy blow must have brought blood. But of course there was none.

"I'll tell my dad--that's what I'll do," ejaculated the bully, at
length, and he started immediately across the field, his long legs
working like a pair of tongs in his haste to get over the ground.

But Hiram completed the setting of the posts at the water-hole without
hearing further from any member of the Dickerson family.



CHAPTER XIII. THE UPROOTING

These early Spring days were busy ones for Hiram Strong. The mornings
were frosty and he could not get to his fencing work until midforenoon.
But there were plenty of other tasks ready to his hand.

There were two south windows in the farmhouse kitchen. He tried to keep
some fire in the stove there day and night, sleeping as he did in Uncle
Jeptha's old bedroom nearby.

Before these two windows he erected wide shelves and on these he set
shallow boxes of rich earth which he had prepared under the cart shed.
There was no frost under there, the earth was dry and the hens had
scratched in it during the winter, so Hiram got all the well-sifted
earth he needed for his seed boxes.

He used a very little commercial fertilizer in each box, and planted
some of the seeds he had bought in Crawberry at an agricultural
warehouse on Main Street.

Mrs. Atterson had expressed the hope that he would put in a variety of
vegetables for their own use, and Hiram had followed her wishes. When
the earth in the boxes had warmed up for several days he put in the
long-germinating seeds, like tomato, onions, the salads, leek, celery,
pepper, eggplant, and some beet seed to transplant for the early garden.
It was too early yet to put in cabbage and cauliflower.

These boxes caught the sun for a good part of the day. In the afternoon
when the sun had gone, Hiram covered the boxes with old quilts and did
not uncover them again until the sun shone in the next morning. He had
decided to start his early plants in this way because he hadn't the time
at present to build frames outside.

During the early mornings and late afternoons, too, he began to make the
small repairs around the house and outbuildings. Hiram was handy with
tools; indeed, a true farmer should be a good mechanic as well. He must
often combine carpentry and wheelwrighting and work at the forge, with
his agricultural pursuits. Hiram was something better than a "cold-iron
blacksmith."

When it came to stretching the wire of the pasture fence he had to
resort to his inventive powers. There are plenty of wire stretchers that
can be purchased; but they cost money.

The young farmer knew that Mrs. Atterson had no money to waste, and he
worked for her just as he would have worked for himself.

One man working alone cannot easily stretch wire and make a good job
of it without some mechanism to help him. Hiram's was simple and easily
made.

A twelve-inch section of perfectly round post, seven or eight inches
through, served as the drum around which to wind the wire, and two
twenty-penny nails driven into the side of the drum, close together,
were sufficient to prevent the wire from slipping.

To either end of the drum Hiram passed two lengths of Number 9 wire
through large screweyes, making a double loop into which the hook of a
light timber chain would easily catch. Into one end of the drum he drove
a headless spike, upon which the hand-crank of the grindstone fitted,
and was wedged tight.

In using this ingenious wire stretcher, he stapled his wire to post
number one, carried the length past post number two, looped the chain
around post number three, having the chain long enough so that he might
tauten the wire and hold the crankhandle steady with his knee or left
arm while he drove the holding staple in post number two. And so repeat,
ad infinitum.

After he had made this wire-stretcher the young fellow got along
famously upon his fencing and could soon turn his attention to other
matters, knowing that the cattle would be perfectly safe in the pasture
for the coming season.

The old posts he collected on the wagon and drew into the dooryard,
piling them beside the woodshed. There was not an overabundant supply
of firewood cut and Hiram realized that Mrs. Atterson would use
considerable in her kitchen stove before the next winter, even if she
did not run a sitting room fire for long this spring.

Using a bucksaw is not only a thankless job at any time, but it is no
saving of time or money. There was a good two-handed saw in the shed and
Hiram found a good rat-tail file. With the aid of a home-made saw-holder
and a monkey wrench he sharpened and set this saw and then got Henry
Pollock to help him for a day.

Henry wasn't afraid of work, and the two boys sawed and split the old
and well-seasoned posts, and some other wood, so that Hiram was enabled
to pile several tiers of stove-wood under the shed against the coming of
Mrs. Atterson to her farm.

"If the season wasn't so far advanced, I could cut a lot of wood, draw
it up, and hire a gasoline engine and saw to come on the place and saw
us enough to last a year. I'll do that next winter," Hiram said.

"That's what we all ought to do," agreed his friend.

Henry Pollock was an observing farmer's boy and through him Hiram gained
many pointers as to the way the farmers in that locality put in their
crops and cultivated them.

He learned, too, through Henry who was supposed to be the best farmer
in the neighborhood, who had special success with certain crops, and who
had raised the best seedcorn in the locality.

It was not particularly a trucking community; although, since Scoville
had begun to grow so fast and many city people had moved into that
pleasant town, the local demand for garden produce had increased.

"It used to be a saying here," said Henry, "that a bushel of winter
turnips would supply all the needs of Scoville. But that ain't exactly
so now.

"The stores all want green stuff in season, and are beginning to pay
cash for truck instead of only offering to exchange groceries for the
stuff we raise. I guess if a man understood truck raising he could make
something in this market."

Hiram decided that this was so, on looking over the marketing
possibilities of Scoville.

There was a canning factory which put up string beans, corn, and
tomatoes; but the prices per hundred-weight for these commodities did
not encourage Hiram to advise Mrs. Atterson to try and raise anything
for the canneries. A profit could not be made out of such crops on a
one-horse farm.

For instance, the neighboring farmers did not plant their tomato seeds
until it was pretty safe to do so in the open ground. The cannery did
not want the tomato pack to come on until late in August. By that time
the cream of the prices for garden-grown tomatoes had been skimmed by
the early truckers.

The same with sweet corn and green beans. The cannery demanded these
vegetables at so late a date that the market-price was generally low.

These facts Hiram bore in mind as he planned his season's work, and
especially the kitchen garden. This latter he planned to be about two
acres in extent--rather a large plot, but he proposed to set his rows
of almost every vegetable far enough apart to be worked with a horse
cultivator.

Some crops--for instance onions, carrots, and other "fine stuff"--must
be weeded by hand to an extent, and if the soil is rich enough rows
twelve or fifteen inches apart show better results.

Between such rows a wheelhoe can be used to good advantage, and that
was one tool--with a seed-sowing combination--that Hiram had told Mrs.
Atterson she must buy if he was to practically attend to the whole farm
for her. Hand-hoeing, in both field and garden crops, is antediluvian.

Thus, during this week and a half of preparation, Hiram made ready for
the uprooting of Mrs. Atterson from the boarding house in Crawberry to
the farm some distance out of Scoville.

The good lady had but one wagon load of goods to be transferred from
her old quarters to the new home. Many of the articles she brought were
heirlooms which she had stored in the boarding house cellar, or articles
associated with her happy married life, which had been shortened by her
husband's death when he was comparatively a young man.

These Mrs. Atterson saw piled on the wagon early on Saturday morning,
and she had insisted upon climbing upon the seat beside the driver
herself and riding with him all the way.

The boarders gathered on the steps to see her go. The two spinster
ladies had already taken possession, and had served breakfast to the
disgruntled members of Mother Atterson's family.

"You'll be back again," prophesied Mr. Crackit, shaking the old lady by
the hand. "And when you do, just let me know. I'll come and board with
you."

"I wouldn't have you in my house again, Fred Crackit, for two farms,"
declared the ex-boarding house keeper, with asperity.

"I hope you told these people about my hot water, Mrs. Atterson,"
croaked Mr. Peebles, from the step, where he stood muffled in a shawl
because of the raw morning air.

"If I didn't you can tell 'em yourself," returned she, with
satisfaction.

And so it went--the good-byes of these unappreciative boarders selfish
to the last! Mother Atterson sighed--a long, happy, and satisfying
sigh--when the lumbering wagon turned the first corner.

"Thanks be!" she murmured. "I sha'n't care if they don't have a driblet
of gravy at supper tonight."

Then she shook herself and stared straight ahead. On the very next
corner--she had insisted that none of the other people at the house
should observe their flitting--stood two figures, both forlorn.

Old Lem Camp, with a lean suit-case at his feet, and Sister with a
bulging carpetbag which she had brought with her months before from the
charity institution, and into which she had stuffed everything she owned
in the world.

Their faces brightened perceptibly when they beheld Mrs. Atterson
perched high beside the driver on the load of furniture and bedding. The
driver drew in his span of big horses and the wheels grated against the
curb.

"You climb right in behind, Mr. Camp," said the good lady. "There's room
for you up under the canvas top--and I had him spread a mattress so't
you can take it easy all the way, if you like.

"Sister, you scramble up here and sit in betwixt me and this man. And do
look out--you're spillin' things out o' that bag like it was a Christmas
cornucopia. Come on, now! Toss it behind us, onto them other things.
There! we'll go on--and no more stops, I hope, till we reach the farm."

But that couldn't be. It was a long drive, and the man was good to his
team. He rested them at the top of every hill, and sometimes at the
bottom. They had to stop two hours for dinner and to "breathe 'em," as
the man said.

At that time Mother Atterson produced a goodsized market basket--her
familiar companion when she had hunted bargains in the city--and it was
filled with sandwiches, and pickles, and crackers, and cookies, and
a whole boiled fowl (fowl were cheaper and more satisfying than the
scrawny chickens then in market) and hard-boiled eggs, and cheese, with
numbers of other less important eatables tucked into corners of the
basket to "wedge" the larger packages of food.

The four picnicked in the sun, with the furniture wagon to break the
keen wind, passing around hot coffee in a can, from hand to hand, the
driver having built a campfire to heat the coffee beside the country
road.

But after that stop--for they were well into the country now--there was
no keeping Sister on the wagon-seat. She had learned to drop down and
mount again as lively as a cricket.

She tore along the edge of the road, with her hair flying, and her hat
hanging by its ribbons. She chased a rabbit, and squirrels, and picked
certain green branches, and managed to get her hands and the front of
her dress all "stuck up" with spruce gum in trying to get a piece big
enough to chew.

"Drat the young'un!" exclaimed Mother Atterson. "I can see plainly
I'd never ought to brought her, but should have sent her back to the
institution. She'll be as wild as Mr. March's hare--whoever he was--out
here in the country."

But Old Lem Camp gave her no trouble. He effaced himself just as he had
at the boarding house supper table. He seldom spoke--never unless he was
spoken to; and he lay up under the roof of the furniture wagon, whether
asleep, or no, Mrs. Atterson could not tell.

"He's as odd as Dick's hat-band," the ex-boarding house mistress
confided to the driver. "But, bless you! the easiest critter to get
along with--you never saw his beat. If I'd a house full of Lem Camps to
cook for, I'd think I was next door to heaven."

It was dusk when they arrived in sight of the little house beside the
road in which Uncle Jeptha Atterson had lived out his long life. Hiram
had a good fire going in both the kitchen and sitting room, and the
lamplight flung through the windows made the place look cheerful indeed
to the travelers.

"My soul and body!" croaked the good lady, when she got down from the
wagon and Hiram caught her in his arms to save her from a fall. "I'm as
stiff as a poker--and that's a fact. But I'm glad to get here."

Hiram's amazement when he saw Sister and Old Lem Camp was only expressed
in his look. He said nothing. The driver of the wagon backed it to the
porch step and then took out his team and, with Hiram's help, led them
to the stable, fed them, and bedded them down for the night. He was to
sleep in one of the spare beds and go back to town the following day.

Mother Atterson took off her best dress, slipped into a familiar old
gingham and bustled around the kitchen as naturally as though she had
been there all her life.

She fried ham and eggs, and made biscuit, and opened a couple of tins of
peaches she had brought, and finally set before them a repast satisfying
if not dainty, and seasoned with a cheerful spirit at least.

"I vum!" she exclaimed, sitting down for the first time in years "at the
first table." "If this don't beat Crawberry and them boarders, I'm crazy
as a loon. Pour the coffee, Sister--and don't be stingy with the milk.
Milk's only five cents a quart here, and it's eight in town. But,
gracious, child! sugar don't cost no less."

Old Lem Camp sat beside Hiram, as he had at the boarding-house table. He
had scarcely spoken since his arrival; but now, under cover of the talk
of Mother Atterson, the driver of the furniture van, and Sister, he
began one of his old-time monologues:

"Old, old--nothing to look forward to--then the prospect opens up--just
like light breaking through the clouds after a storm--let's see; I want
a piece of bread--bread's on Sister's side--I can reach it--hum! no
Crackit to-night--fool jokes--silly fellow--ah! the butter--Where's the
butterknife?--Sister's forgotten the butter-knife--no! here 'tis--That
woman's an angel--nothing less--an angel in a last season's bonnet and a
shabby gown--Hah! practical angels couldn't use wings--they'd be in the
way in the kitchen--ham and eggs--gravy--fit for gods to eat--and not to
worry again where next week's victuals are to come from!"

Hiram noted all the old mail said, and the last phrase enlightened him
immensely as to why Old Lem Camp was so "queer." That was the trouble
on the old man's mind--the trouble that had stifled him, and made him
appear "half cracked" as the boarding-house jester and Peebles had said.

Lem Camp, too old to ever get another job in the city, had for five
years been worrying from day to day about his bare existence. And
evidently he saw that bogie of the superannuated disappearing in the
distance.

After the truck driver had gone to bed, and Camp himself, and Sister had
fallen asleep over the last of the dish-wiping, Mother Atterson confided
in Hiram, to a degree.

"Now, this gal can be made useful. She can help me in the house, and she
can help outside, too.

"She's a poor, unfortunate creature--I know and humbly is no name for
her looks! But mebbe we can send her to the school nearby, and she ought
to get some color in her face if she's out o' doors some--and some flesh
on her skinny body.

"I don't know as I could get along without Sister," ruminated Mother
Atterson, shaking her head.

"And as for Lem Camp--bless you! he won't eat more'n a fly, and who else
would give him houseroom? Why, Hiram, I just had to bring him with me.
If I hadn't, I'd felt just as conscience-stricken as though I'd moved
and left a cat behind in an empty house!"



CHAPTER XIV. GETTING IN THE EARLY CROPS

Mother Atterson had breakfast the next morning by lamplight, because the
truckman wanted to make an early start.

Hiram had already begun early rising, however, for the farmer who does
not get up before the sun in the spring needs must do his chores at
night by lantern-light. The eight-hour law can never be a rule on the
farm.

But Sister was up, too, and out of the house, running as wild as a
rabbit. Hiram caught her in the barnyard trying to clamber on the cow's
back to ride her about the enclosure. Sister was afraid of nothing that
lived and walked, having all the courage of ignorance.

She found that she could not in safety clamber over the pig-lot fence
and catch one of the shoats. Old Mother Hog ran at her with open mouth
and Sister came back from that expedition with a torn frock and some new
experience.

"I never knew anything so fat could run," she confided to Hiram. "Old
Missus Poundly, who lived on our block, and weighed three hundred
pounds, couldn't run, I bet!"

Mr. Camp was not disturbed by Mrs. Atterson, but was allowed to sleep as
long as he liked, while she kept a little breakfast hot for him and the
coffeepot on the back of the stove.

The old lady became interested at once in all Hiram had done toward
beginning the spring work. She learned about the seed in the window
boxes (some of them were already breaking the soil) about watering them
and covering them properly and immediately took those duties off Hiram's
hands.

"If Sister an' me can't do the light chores around this place and leave
you to 'tend to the bigger things, then we ain't no good and had better
go back to the boarding house," she announced.

"Oh, Mis' Atterson! You wouldn't go back to town, would you?" pleaded
Sister. "Why, there's real hens--and a cow that will give milk bimeby,
Hi says--and a horse that wiggles his ears and talks right out loud when
he's hungry, for I heard him--and pigs that squeal and run, an' they're
jest as fat as butter----"

"Well, to stay here we've all got to work, Sister," declared her
mistress. "So get at them dishes now and be quick about it.
There's forty times more chores to do here than there was back in
Crawberry--But, thanks be! there ain't no gravy to worry about."

"And there ain't no boarders to make fun of me," said Sister,
thoughtfully. Then, she announced, after some rumination: "I like pigs
better than I do boarders Mis' Atterson."

"Well, I should think you would!" exclaimed that lady, tartly. "Pigs has
got some sense."

Hiram laughed at this. "You'll find the pigs demanding gravy, just the
same--and very urgent about it they are, too," he told them.

But he was glad to give the small chores over into their hands, and went
to work immediately to prepare for putting in the early crops.

He had already cleared the rubbish off the piece of ground selected
for the garden, and had burned it. He hauled out stable manure from
the barnyard and gave an acre and a half of this piece of land a good
dressing.

The other half-acre was for early potatoes, and he wished to put the
manure in the furrow for them, so did not top dress that strip of land.
The frost was pretty well out of the ground by now; but even if some
remained, plowing this high, well-drained piece would do no harm.
Beside, Hiram was eager to get in early crops.

It was a still, hazy morning when he geared the old horse to the plow
and headed him into the garden piece. He had determined to plow the
entire plot at once, and instead of plowing "around and around" had
paced off his lands and started in the middle, plowing "gee" instead of
"haw".

This system is a bit more particular, and hard for the careless plowman;
but it overcomes that unsightly "dead-furrow" in the middle of a field
and brings the "finishing-furrow" on the edge. This insures better
surface drainage and is a more scientific method of tillage.

The plow was rusty and the point was not in the very best condition; but
after the first few rounds the share was cleaned off, and it began to
slip through the moist earth and roll it over in a long, brown ribbon
behind him.

Hiram Strong clung to the plow handles, a rope-rein in each hand, and
watched the plow and the horse and the land ahead with an eye as keen as
that of a river-pilot.

As the strip of turned earth grew wider and longer Sister ran out to see
him work. She watched the plow turn the mulch into the furrow and lay
the brown, greasy mold upon it, with wide-open eyes.

"Why!" cried she, "wouldn't it be nice if we could go right along with
a plow and bury our past like that--cover everything mean and nasty
up, and forget it! That institution they put me in--and the old woman
I lived with before that, who drank so much gin and beat me--and the
boarders--and that boy who used to pull my braids whenever he met me--My
that would be fine!"

"I reckon that is what Life does do for us," returned Hiram,
thoughtfully, stopping at the end of the furrow to mop his brow and let
the old horse breathe. "Yes, sir! Life plows all the experience under,
and it ought to enrich our future existence, just as this stuff I'm
plowing under here will decay and enrich the soil."

"But the plow don't turn it quite under in spots," said Sister, with
a sigh. "Leastways, I can't help remembering the bad things once in a
while."

There were certain other individuals who found out very soon that Hiram
was plowing, too. Those were the hens. There were not more than fifteen
or twenty of the scrubby creatures, and they began to follow the plow
and pick up grubs and worms.

"I tell you one thing that I've got to do before we put in much," Hiram
told the ex-boarding house mistress at noon.

"What's that, Hi? Don't go very deep down into my pocket, for it won't
stand it. After paying my bills, and paying for moving out here, I ain't
got much money left--and that's a fact!"

"It won't cost much, but we've got to have a yard for the hens. Hens and
a garden will never mix successfully. Unless you enclose them you might
as well have no garden in that spot where I'm plowing."

"There warn't but five eggs to-day," said Mrs. Atterson. "Mebbe we'd
better chop the heads off 'em, one after the other, and eat 'em."

"They'll lay better as it grows warmer. That henhouse must be fixed
before next winter. It's too draughty," said Hi. "And then, hens can't
lay well--especially through the winter--if they haven't the proper kind
of food."

"But three or four of the dratted things want to stay on the nest all
the time," complained the old lady.

"If I was you, Mrs. Atterson," Hiram said, soberly, "I'd spend five
dollars for a hundred eggs of well-bred stock.

"I'd set these hens as fast as they get broody, and raise a decent flock
of biddies for next year. Scrub hens are just as bad as scrub cows. The
scrubs will eat quite as much as full-bloods, yet the returns from the
scrubs are much less."

"I declare!" exclaimed Mrs. Atterson, "a hen's always been just a hen
to me--one's the same as another, exceptin' the feathers on some is
prettier."

"To-night I'll show you some breeders' catalogs and you can think the
matter over as to what kind of a fowl you want," said the young farmer.

He went back to his job after dinner and kept steadily at work until
three o'clock before there came a break. Then he saw a carriage drive
into the yard, and a few moments later a man In a long gray coat came
striding across the lot toward him.

Hiram knew the gentleman at once--it was Mr. Bronson, the father of
the girl he had saved from the runaway. To tell the truth, the boy
had rather wondered about his non-appearance during the days that
had elapsed. But now he came with hand held out, and his first words
explained the seeming omission:

"I've been away for more than a week, my boy, or I should have seen you
before. You're Hiram Strong, aren't you--the boy my little girl has been
talking so much about?"

"I don't know how much Miss Lettie has been talking about me," laughed
Hiram. "Full and plenty, I expect."

"And small blame to her," declared Mr. Bronson. "I won't waste time
telling you how grateful I am. I had just time to turn that boy of
Dickerson's off before I was called away. Now, my lad, I want you to
come and work for me."

"Why, much as I might like to, sir, I couldn't do that," said Hiram.

"Now, now! we'll fix it somehow. Lettie has set her heart on having you
around the place.

"You're the second young man I've been after whom I was sure would suit
me, since we moved on to the old Fleigler place. The first fellow I
can't find; but don't tell me that I am going to be disappointed in you,
too."

"Mr. Bronson," said Hiram, gravely, "I'm sorry to say 'No.' A little
while ago I'd have been delighted to take up with any fair offer you
might have made me. But I have agreed with Mrs. Atterson to run her
place for two seasons."

"Two years!" exclaimed Mr. Bronson.

"Yes, sir. Practically. I must put her on her feet and make the old farm
show a profit."

"You're pretty young to take such responsibility upon your shoulders,
are you not?" queried the gentleman, eyeing him curiously.

"I'm seventeen. I began to work with my father as soon as I could lift
a hoe. I love farm work. And I've passed my word to stick to Mrs.
Atterson."

"That's the old lady up to the house?"

"Yes, sir."

"But she wouldn't hold you to your bargain if she saw you could better
yourself, would she?"

"She would not have to," Hiram said, firmly, and he began to feel a
little disappointed in his caller. "A bargain's a bargain--there's no
backing out of it."

"But suppose I should make it worth her while to give you up?" pursued
Mr. Bronson. "I'll sound her a bit, eh? I tell you that Lettie has set
her heart on having you, as we cannot find another chap whom we were
looking for."

Now, Hiram knew that this referred to him; but he said nothing. Besides,
he did not feel too greatly pleased that the strongest reason for Mr.
Bronson's wishing to hire him was his little daughter's demand. It was
just a fancy of Miss Lettie's. And another day, she might have the fancy
to turn him off.

"No, sir," spoke Hiram, more firmly. "It is useless. I am obliged to
you; but I must stick by Mrs. Atterson."

"Well, my lad," said the Westerner, putting out his hand again. "I am
glad to see you know how to keep a promise, even if it isn't to your
advantage. And I am grateful to you for turning that trick for my little
girl the other day."

"I hope you'll come over and see us--and I shall watch your work here.
Most of these fellows around here are pretty slovenly farmers in my
estimation; I hope you will do better than the average."

He went back across the field and Hiram returned to his plowing. The
young farmer saw the bay horses driven slowly out of the yard and along
the road.

He saw the flutter of a scarf from the carriage and knew that Lettie
Bronson was with her father; but she did not look out at him as he
toiled behind the old horse in the furrow.

However, there was no feeling of disappointment in Hiram Strong's
mind--and this fact somewhat surprised him. He had been so attracted by
the girl, and had wished in the beginning so much to be engaged by Mr.
Bronson, that he had considered it a mighty disappointment when he had
lost the Westerner's card.

However, his apathy in the matter was easily explained. He had taken
hold of the work on the Atterson place. His plans were growing in his
mind for the campaign before him. His interest was fastened upon the
contract he had made with the old lady.

His hand was, literally now, "to the plow"--and he was not looking back.

He finished the piece that day, and likewise drew out some lime that he
had bought at Scoville and spread it broadcast upon all the garden patch
save that in which he intended to put potatoes.

Although it is an exploded doctrine that the application of lime to
potato ground causes scab, it is a fact that it will aid in spreading
the disease. Hiram was sure enough--because of the sheep-sorrel on the
piece--that it all needed sweetening, but he decided against the lime at
this time.

As soon as Hiram had drag-harrowed the piece he laid off two rows down
the far end, as being less tempting to the straying hens, and planted
early peas--the round-seeded variety, hardier than the wrinkled kinds.
These pea-rows were thirty inches apart, and he dropped the peas by hand
and planted them very thickly.

It doesn't pay to be niggardly with seed in putting in early peas, at
any rate--the thicker they come up the better, and in these low bush
varieties the thickly growing vines help support each other.

This garden piece--almost two acres--was oblong in shape. An acre is
just about seventy paces square. Hiram's garden was seventy by a hundred
and forty paces, or thereabout.

Therefore, the young farmer had two seventy-yard rows of peas, or over
four hundred feet of drill. He planted two quarts of peas at a cost of
seventy cents.

With ordinary fortune the crop should be much more than sufficient for
the needs of the house while the peas were in a green state, for being a
quick growing vegetable, they are soon past.

Hiram, however, proposed putting in a surplus of almost everything he
planted in this big garden--especially of the early vegetables--for he
believed that there would be a market for them in Scoville.

The ground was very cold yet, and snow flurries swept over the field
every few days; but the peas were under cover and were off his mind;
Hiram knew they would be ready to pop up above the surface just as soon
as the warm weather came in earnest, and peas do not easily rot in the
ground.

In two weeks, or when the weather was settled, he proposed planting
other kinds of peas alongside these first two rows, so as to have a
succession up to mid-summer.

Next the young farmer laid off his furrows for early potatoes. He had
bought a sack of an extra-early variety, yet a potato that, if left
in the ground the full length of the season, would make a good winter
variety--a "long keeper."

His potato rows he planned to have three feet apart, and he plowed the
furrows twice, so as to have them clean and deep.

Henry Pollock happened to come by while he was doing this, and stopped
to talk and watch Hiram. To tell the truth, Henry and his folks were
more than a little interested in what the young farmer would do with the
Atterson place.

Like other neighbors they doubted if the stranger knew as much about the
practical work of farming as he claimed to know. "That feller from
the city," the neighbors called Hiram behind his back, and that is an
expression that completely condemns a man in the mind of the average
countryman.

"What yer bein' so particular with them furrers for, Hiram?" asked
Henry.

"If a job's worth doing at all, it's worth doing well, isn't it?"
laughed the young farmer.

"We spread our manure broadcast--when we use any at all--for potatoes,"
said Henry, slowly. "Dad says if manure comes in contact with potatoes,
they are apt to rot."

"That seems to be a general opinion," replied Hiram. "And it may be so
under certain conditions. For that reason I am going to make sure that
not much of this fertilizer comes in direct contact with my seed."

"How'll you do that?" "I'll show you," said Hiram.

Having run out his rows and covered the bottom of each furrow several
inches deep with the manure, he ran his plow down one side of each
furrow and turned the soil back upon the fertilizer, covering it and
leaving a well pulverized seed bed for the potatoes to lie in.

"Well," said Henry, "that's a good wrinkle, too."

Hiram had purchased some formalin, mixed it with water according to the
Government expert's instructions, and from time to time soaked his seed
potatoes two hours in the antiseptic bath. In the evening he brought
them into the kitchen and they all--even Old Lem Camp--cut up the
potatoes, leaving two or three good eyes in each piece.

"I'd ruther do this than peel 'em for the boarders," remarked Sister,
looking at her deeply-stained fingers reflectively. "And then, nobody
won't say nothin' about my hands to me when I'm passin' dishes at the
table."

The following day she helped Hiram drop the seed, and by night he had
covered them by running his plow down the other side of the row and
then smoothed the potato plat with a home-made "board" in lieu of a
land-roller.

It was the twentieth of March, and not a farmer in the locality had yet
put in either potatoes, or peas. Some had not as yet plowed for early
potatoes, and Henry Pollock warned Hiram that he was "rushing the
season."

"That may be," declared the young farmer to Mrs. Atterson. "But I
believe the risk is worth taking. If we do get 'em good, we'll get 'em
early and skim the cream of the local market. Now, you see!"



CHAPTER XV. TROUBLE BREWS

"Old Lem Camp," as he had been called for so many years that there
seemed no disrespect in the title, was waking up. Not many mornings was
he a lie-abed. And the lines in his forehead seemed to be smoothing out,
and his eyes had lost something of their dullness.

It was true that, at first, he wandered about the farmstead muttering
to himself in his old way--an endless monologue which was a jumble of
comment, gratitude, and the brief memories of other days. It took some
time to adjust his poor mind to the fact that he had no longer to
fear that Poverty which had stalked ever before him like a threatening
spirit.

Gratitude spurred him to the use of his hands. He was not a broken
man--not bodily. Many light tasks soon fell to his share, and Mrs.
Atterson told Hiram and Sister to let him do what he would. To busy
himself would be the best thing in the world for the old fellow.

"That's what's been the matter with Mr. Camp for years," she declared,
with conviction. "Because he passed the sixty-year mark, and it was
against the practise of the paper company to keep employees on the
payroll over that age, they turned Lem Camp off.

"Ridiculous! He was just as well able to do the tasks that he had
learned to do mechanically as he had been any time for the previous
twenty years. He had worked in that office forty years, and more, you
understand.

"That's the worst thing about a corporation of that kind--it has no
thought beyond its 'rules.' Old Mr. Bundy remembered Lem--that's all.
If he hadn't so much stock in the concern they'd turn him off, too. I
expect he knows it and that's what softened his heart to Old Lem.

"Now, let Lem take hold of whatever he can do, and git interested in
it," declared the practical Mrs. Atterson, "and he'll show you that
there's work left in him yet. Yes-sir-ree-sir! And if he'll work in the
open air, all the better for him."

There was plenty for everybody to do, and Hiram would not say the old
man nay. The seed boxes needed a good deal of attention, for they were
to be lifted out into the air on warm days, and placed in the sun. And
Old Lem could do this--and stir the soil in them, and pull out the grass
and other weeds that started.

Hiram had planted early cabbage and cauliflower and egg-plant in other
boxes, and the beets were almost big enough to transplant to the open
ground. Beets are hardy and although hair-roots are apt to form on
transplanted garden beets, the transplanting aids the growth in other
ways and Hiram expected to have table-beets very early.

In the garden itself he had already run out two rows of later beets, the
width of the plot. Bunched beets will sell for a fair price the whole
season through.

Hiram was giving his whole heart and soul to the work--he was wrapped up
in the effort to make the farm pay. And for good reason.

It was "up to him" to not alone turn a profit for his employer, and
himself; but he desired--oh, how strongly!--to show the city folk who
had sneered at him that he could be a success in the right environment.

Besides, and in addition, Hiram Strong was ambitious--very ambitious
indeed for a youth of his age. He wanted to own a farm of his own in
time--and it was no "one-horse farm" he aimed at.

No, indeed! Hiram had read of the scientific farming of the Middle West,
and the enormous tracts in the Northwest devoted to grain and other
staple crops, where the work was done for the most part by machinery.

He longed to see all this--and to take part in it. He desired the big
things in farming, nor would he ever be content to remain a helper.

"I'm going to be my own boss, some day--and I'm going to boss other men.
I'll show these fellows around here that I know what I want, and when I
get it I'll handle it right!" Hiram soliloquized.

"It's up to me to save every cent I can. Henry thinks I'm niggardly,
I expect, because I wouldn't go to town Saturday night with him. But I
haven't any money to waste.

"The hundred I'm to get next Christmas from Mrs. Atterson I don't wish
to draw on at all. I'll get along with such old clothes as I've got."

Hiram was not naturally a miser; he frequently bought some little thing
for Sister when he went to town--a hair-ribbon, or the like, which he
knew would please the girl; but for himself he was determined to be
saving.

At the end of his contract with Mrs. Atterson he would have two hundred
dollars anyway. But that was not the end and aim of Hiram Strong's
hopes.

"It's the clause in our agreement about the profits of our second season
that is my bright and shining star," he told the good lady more than
once. "I don't know yet what we had better put in next year to bring us
a fortune; but we'll know before it comes time to plant it."

Meanwhile the wheel-hoe and seeder he had insisted upon Mrs. Atterson
buying had arrived, and Hiram, after studying the instructions which
came with it, set the machine up as a seed-sower. Later, after the
bulk of the seeds were in the ground, he would take off the seeding
attachment and bolt on the hoe, or cultivator attachments, with which to
stir the soil between the narrower rows of vegetables.

As he made ready to plant seeds such as carrot, parsnip, onion, salsify,
and leaf-beet, as well as spring spinach, early turnips, radishes and
kohlrabi, Hiram worked that part of his plowed land over again and again
with the spike harrow, finally boarding the strips down smoothly as
he wished to plant them. The seedbed must be as level as a floor, and
compact, for good use to be made of the wheel-seeder.

When he had lined out one row with his garden line, from side to side of
the plowed strip, the marking arrangement attached to his seeder would
mark the following lines plainly, and at just the distance he desired.

Onions, carrots, and the like, he put in fifteen inches apart, intending
to do all the cultivating of those extremely small plants with the
wheel-hoe, after they were large enough. But he foresaw the many hours
of cultivating before him and marked the rows for the bulk of the
vegetables far enough apart, as he had first intended, to make possible
the use of the horse-hoe.

Meanwhile he spike-harrowed the potato patch, running cross-wise of the
rows to break the crust and keep down the quick-springing weed seeds.
The early peas were already above ground and when they were two inches
high Hiram ran his 14-tooth cultivator--or "seed harrow" as it is called
in some localities--close to the rows so as to throw the soil toward the
plants, almost burying them from sight again. This was to give the peas
deep rootage, which is a point necessary for the quick and stable growth
of this vegetable.

In odd moments Hiram had cut and set a few posts, bought poultry netting
in Scoville, and enclosed Mrs. Atterson's chicken-run. She had taken his
advice and sent for eggs, and already had four hens setting and expected
to set the remainder of the of the eggs in a few days.

Sister took an enormous interest in this poultry-raising venture. She
"counted chickens before they were hatched" with a vengeance, and after
reading a few of the poultry catalogs she figured out that, in three
years, from the increase of Mother Atterson's hundred eggs, the
eighty-acre farm would not be large enough to contain the flock.

"And all from five dollars!" gasped Sister. "I don't see why everybody
doesn't go to raising chickens--then there'd be no poor folks, everybody
would be rich--Well! I expect there'd always have to be institutions for
orphans--and boarding houses!"

The new-springing things from the ground, the "hen industry" and the
repairing and beautifying of the outside of the farmhouse did not take
up all their attention. There were serious matters to be discussed in
the evening, after the others had gone to bed, 'twixt Hiram and his
employer.

There was the five or six acres of bottom land--the richest piece of
soil of the entire eighty. Hiram had not forgotten this, and the second
Sunday of their stay at the farm, after the whole family had attended
service at a chapel less than half a mile up the road, he had urged Mrs.
Atterson to walk with him through the timber to the riverside.

"For the Land o' Goshen!" the ex-boarding house mistress had finally
exclaimed. "To think that I own all of this. Why, Hi, it don't seem as
if it was so. I can't get used to it. And this timber, you say, is all
worth money? And if I cut it off, it will grow up again----"

"In thirty to forty years the pine will be worth cutting again--and some
of the other trees," said Hiram, with a smile.

"Well! that would be something for Sister to look forward to," said
the old lady, evidently thinking aloud. "And I don't expect her
folks--whoever they be--will ever look her up now, Hiram."

"But with the timber cut and this side hill cleared, you would have a
very valuable thirty acres, or so, of tillage--valuable for almost any
crop, and early, too, for it slopes toward the sun," said the young
farmer, ignoring the other's observation.

"Well, well! it's wonderful," returned Mrs. Atterson.

But she listened attentively to what he had to say about clearing the
bottom land, which was a much more easily accomplished task, as Hiram
showed her. It would cost something to put the land into shape for
late corn, and so prepare it for some more valuable crop the following
season.

"Well, nothing ventured, nothing have!" Mrs. Atterson finally agreed.
"Go ahead--if it won't cost much more than what you say to get the corn
in. I understand it's a gamble, and I'm taking a gambler's chance.
If the river rises and floods the corn in June, or July, then we get
nothing this season?"

"That is a possibility," admitted Hiram.

"Go ahead," exclaimed Mother Atterson. "I never did know that there was
sporting blood in me; but I kinder feel it risin', Hi, with the sap in
the trees. We'll chance it!"

Occasionally Hiram had stepped down to the pasture and squinted across
to the water-hole. The grass was not long enough yet to turn the cow
into the field, so he was obliged to make these special trips to the
pasture.

He had seen nothing of the Dickersons--to speak to, that is--since his
trouble with Pete. And, of a sudden, just before dinner one noon, Hiram
took a look at the pasture and beheld a figure seemingly working down in
the corner.

Hiram ran swiftly in that direction. Half-way there he saw that it was
Pete, and that he had deliberately cut out a panel of the fence and was
letting a pair of horses he had been plowing with, drink at the pool,
before he took them home to the Dickerson stable.

Hiram stopped running and recovered his breath before he reached the
lower corner of the pasture. Pete saw him coming, and grinned impudently
at him.

"What are you doing here, Dickerson?" demanded the young farmer,
indignantly.

"Well, if you wanter keep us out, you'd better keep up your fences
better," returned Pete. "I seen the wires down, and it's handy----"

"You cut those wires!" interrupted Hiram, angrily.

"You're another," drawled Pete, but grinning in a way to exasperate the
young farmer.

"I know you did so."

"Wal, if you know so much, what are you going to do about it?" demanded
the other. "I guess you'll find that these wires will snap 'bout as fast
as you can mend 'em. Now, you can put that in your pipe an' smoke it!"

"But I don't smoke." Hiram observed, growing calm immediately. There was
no use in giving this lout the advantage of showing anger with him.

"Mr. Smartie!" snarled Pete Dickerson. "Now, you see, there's somebody
just as smart as you be. These horses have drunk there, and they're
going to drink again."

"Is that your father yonder?" demanded Hiram, shortly.

"Yes, it is."

"Call him over here."

"Why, if he comes over here, he'll eat you alive!" cried Pete,
laughing. "You don't know my dad."

"I don't; but I want to," Hiram said, calmly. "That's why you'd better
call him over. I have got pretty well acquainted with you, and the rest
of your family can't be any worse, as I look at it. Call him over," and
the young farmer stepped nearer to the lout.

"You call him yourself!" cried Pete, beginning to back away, for he
remembered how he had been treated at his previous encounter with Hiram.

Hiram seized the bridles of the work horses, and shook them out of
Pete's clutch.

"Tell your father to come here," commanded the young farmer, fire in his
eyes. "We'll settle this thing here and now.

"These horses are on Mrs. Atterson's land. I know the county stock
law as well as you do. You cut this fence, and your cattle are on her
ground.

"It will cost you a dollar a head to get them off again--if Mrs.
Atterson wishes to demand it. Now, call your father."

Pete raised a yell which startled the long-legged man striding over the
hill toward the Dickerson farmhouse. Hiram saw the older Dickerson turn,
stare, and then start toward them.

Pete continued to beckon, and began to yell:

"Dad! Dad! He won't let me have the hosses!"

Sam Dickerson came striding down to the waterhole--a lean, long,
sour-looking man he was, with a brown face knotted into a continual
scowl, and hard, bony hands. Yet Hiram was not afraid of him.

"What's the trouble here?" growled the farmer.

"He's got the hosses. I told you the fence was down and I was goin' to
water 'em----"

"Shut up!" commanded his father, eyeing Hiram. "I'm talking to this
fellow: What's the trouble here?"

"Your horses are on Mrs. Atterson's land," Hiram said, quietly. "You
know that stock which strays can be held for a dollar a head--damage or
no damage to crops. I warn you, keep your horses on your own land."

"That's your fence; if you don't keep it up, who's fault is it if my
horses get on your land?" growled Dickerson, evidently making the matter
a personal one with Hiram.

"Your boy here cut the wires."

"No I didn't, Dad!" interposed Pete.

Quick as a flash Hiram dropped the bridle reins, sprang for Pete, seized
him in a wrestler's grip, twisted him around, and tore from his pocket a
pair of heavy wire-cutters.

"What were you doing with these in your pocket, then?" demanded Hiram,
disdainfully, tossing the plyers upon the ground at Pete's feet, and
stepping back to keep the restless horses from leaving the edge of the
water-hole.

Sam Dickerson seemed to take a grim pleasure in his son's overthrow. He
growled:

"He's got you there, Pete. You'd better stop monkeyin' around here. Pick
up them bridles and come on."

He turned to depart without another word to Hiram; but the latter did
not propose to be put off that way.

"Hold on!" he called. "Who's going to mend this fence, Mr. Dickerson?"

Dickerson turned and eyed him coldly again.

"What's that to me? Mend your own fence," he said.

"Then I shall take these horses up to our barn. You can come and settle
the matter with Mrs. Atterson--unless you wish to pay me two dollars
here and now," said the young farmer, his voice carrying clearly to
where the man stood upon the rising ground above him.

"Why, you young whelp!" roared Dickerson, suddenly starting down the
slope.

But Hiram Strong neither moved nor showed fear. Somehow, this sturdy
young fellow, in the high laced boots, with his flannel shirt open at
the throat, raw as was the day, his sleeves rolled back to his elbows,
was a figure to make even a more muscular man than Sam Dickerson
hesitate.

"Pete!" exclaimed the farmer, harshly, still eyeing Hiram. "Run up to
the house and bring my shotgun. Be quick about it."

Hiram said never a word, and the horses, yoked together, began to crop
the short grass springing upon the bank of the water-hole.

"You'll find out you're fooling with the wrong man, you whippersnapper!"
promised Dickerson.

"You can pay me two dollars and I'll mend the fence; or you can mend the
fence and we'll call it square," said Hiram, slowly, and evenly. "I'm a
boy, but I'm not to be frightened with a threat----"

Pete's long legs brought him flying back across the fields. Nothing he
had done in a long while pleased him quite as much as this errand.

Hiram turned, jerked at the horses' bridle-reins, turned them around,
and with a sharp slap on the nigh one's flank, sent them both trotting
up into the Atterson pasture.

"Stop that, you rascal!" cried Dickerson, grabbing the gun from his
hopeful son, and losing his head now entirely. "Bring that team back!"

"You mend the fence, and I will," declared Hiram, unshaken.

The angry man sprang down to his level, flourishing the gun in a way
that would have been dangerous indeed had Hiram believed it to be
loaded. And as it was, the young farmer was very angry.

The right was on his side; if he allowed these Dickersons, father and
son, to browbeat him this once, it would only lead to future trouble.

This thing had to be settled right here and now. It would never do for
Hiram to show fear. And if both of the long-legged Dickersons pitched
upon him, of course, he would be no match for them.

But Sam Dickerson stumbled and almost fell as he reached the edge of the
water-hole, and before he could recover himself, Hiram leaped upon him,
seized the shotgun, and wrenched it from his hands.

He reversed the weapon in a flash, clubbed it, and raised it over his
head with a threatening swing that made Pete yell from the top of the
bank:

"Look out, Dad! He's a-goin' ter swat yer!"

Sam tried to scramble out of the way. But down came the gun butt with
all the force of Hiram's good muscle, and--the stock was splintered and
the lock shattered upon the big stone that here cropped out of the bank.

"There's your gun--what's left of it," panted the young farmer, tossing
the broken weapon from him. "Now, don't you ever threaten me with a gun
again, for if you do I'll have you arrested.

"We've got to be neighbors, and we've got to get along in a neighborly
manner. But I'm not going to allow you to take advantage of Mrs.
Atterson, because she is a woman.

"Now, Mr. Dickerson," he added, as the man scrambled up, glaring at him
evidently with more surprise than anger, "if you'll make Pete mend this
fence, you can have your horses. Otherwise I'm going to 'pound' them
according to the stock law of the county."

"Pete," said his father, briefly, "go get your hammer and staples and
mend this fence up as good as you found it."

"And now," said Hiram, "I'm going home to gear the horse to the wagon,
and I'll drive over to your house, Mr. Dickerson. From time to time you
have borrowed while Uncle Jeptha was alive quite a number of tools. I
want them. I have made inquiries and I know what tools they are. Just be
prepared to put them into my wagon, will you?"

He turned on his heel without further words and left the Dickersons
to catch their horses, and to repair the fence--both of which they did
promptly.

Not only that, but when Hiram drove into the Dickerson dooryard an hour
later he had no trouble about recovering the tools which the neighbor
had borrowed and failed to return.

Pete scowled at him and muttered uncomplimentary remarks; but Sam
phlegmatically smoked his pipe and sat watching the young farmer without
any comment.

"And so, that much is accomplished," ruminated Hiram, as he drove home.
"But I'm not sure whether hostilities are finished, or have just begun."



CHAPTER XV. ONE SATURDAY AFTERNOON

"The old Atterson place" as it was called in the neighborhood, began to
take on a brisk appearance these days. Sister, with the help of Old Lem
Camp, had long since raked the dooryard clean and burned the rubbish
which is bound to gather during the winter.

Years before there had been flower beds in front; but Uncle Jeptha had
allowed the grass to overrun them. It was a month too early to think of
planting many flowers; but Hiram had bought some seeds, and he showed
Sister how to prepare boxes for them in the sunny kitchen windows, along
with the other plant boxes; and around the front porch he spaded up a
strip, enriched it well, and almost the first seeds put into the ground
on the farm were the sweet peas around this porch. Mother Atterson was
very fond of these flowers and had always managed to coax some of them
to grow even in the boarding-house back yard.

At the side porch she proposed to have morning-glories and moon-flowers,
while the beds in front would be filled with those old-fashioned flowers
which everybody loves.

"But if we can't make our own flower-beds, we can go without them, Hi,"
said the bustling old lady. "We mustn't take you from your other work
to spade beds for us. Every cat's got to catch mice on this place, now I
tell ye!"

And Hiram certainly was busy enough these days. The early seeds were all
in, however, and he had run the seed-harrow over the potato rows again,
lengthwise, to keep the weeds out until the young plants should get a
start.

Despite the raw winds and frosts at night, the potatoes had come up well
and, with the steadily warming wind and sun, would now begin to grow.
Other farmers' potatoes in the vicinity were not yet breaking the
ground.

Early on Monday morning Henry Pollock appeared with bush-axe and
grubbing hoe, and Hiram shouldered similar tools and they started for
the river bottom. It was so far from the house that Mrs. Atterson agreed
to send their dinner to them.

"Father says he remembers seeing corn growing on this bottom," said
Henry, as they set to work, "so high that the ears were as high up as a
tall man. It's splendid corn land--if it don't get flooded out."

"And does the river often over-ran its banks?" queried Hiram, anxiously.

"Pretty frequent. It hasn't yet this year; there wasn't much snow last
winter, you see, and the early spring floods weren't very high. But
if we have a long wet spell, as we do have sometimes as late as July,
you'll see water here."

"That's not very encouraging," said Hiram. "Not for corn prospects, at
least."

"Well, corn's our staple crop. You see, if you raise corn enough you're
sure of feed for your team. That's the main point."

"But people with bigger farms than they have around here can raise corn
cheaper than we can. They use machinery in harvesting it, too. Why not
raise a better paying crop, and buy the extra corn you may need?"

"Why," responded Henry, shaking his head, "nobody around here knows much
about raising fancy crops. I read about 'em in the farm papers--oh, yes,
we take papers--the cheap ones. There is a lot of information in 'em, I
guess; but father don't believe much that's printed."

"Doesn't believe much that's printed?" repeated Hiram, curiously.

"Nope. He says it's all lies, made up out of some man's head. You see,
we useter take books out of the Sunday School library, and we had story
papers, too; and father used to read 'em as much as anybody."

"But one summer we had a summer boarder--a man that wrote things. He
had one of these dinky little merchines with him that you play on like a
piano, you know----"

"A typewriter?" suggested Hiram, with a smile.

"Yep. Well, he wrote stories. Father learnt as how all that stuff was
just imaginary, and so he don't take no stock in printed stuff any more."

"That man just sat down at that merchine, and rattled off a story that
he got real money for. It didn't have to be true at all.

"So father soured on it. And he says the stuff in the farm papers is
just the same."

"I'm afraid that your father is mistaken there," said Hiram, hiding
his amusement. "Men who have spent years in studying agricultural
conditions, and experimenting with soils, and seeds, and plants, and
fertilizers, and all that, write what facts they have learned for our
betterment.

"No trade in the world is so encouraged and aided by Governments, and by
private corporations, as the trade of farming. There is scarcely a State
which does not have a special agricultural college in which there are
winter courses for people who cannot give the open time of the year to
practical experiment on the college grounds.

"That is what you need in this locality, I guess," added Hiram. "Some
scientific farming."

"Book farming, father calls it," said Henry. "And he says it's no good."

"Why don't you save your money and take a course next winter in some
side line and so be able to show him that he's wrong?" suggested Hiram.
"I want to do that myself after I have fulfilled my contract with Mrs.
Atterson.

"I won't be able to do so next winter, for I shall be on wages. You're
going to be a farmer, aren't you?"

"I expect to. We've got a good farm as farms go around here. But it
seems about all we can do to pay our fertilizer bills and get a living
off it."

"Then why don't you go about fitting yourself for your job?" "asked
Hiram. Be a good farmer--an up-to-date farmer.

"No fellow expects to be a machinist, or an electrician, or the like,
without spending some time under good instructors. Most that I know
about soils, and fertilizers, and plant development, and the like, I
learned from my father, who kept abreast of the times by reading and
experiment.

"You can stumble along, working at your trade of farming, and only half
knowing it all your life; that's what most farmers do, in fact. They are
too lazy to take up the scientific side of it and learn why.

"That's the point--learn why you do things that your father did, and his
father did, and his father before him. There's usually good reason why
they did it--a scientific reason which somebody dug out by experiment
ages ago; but you ought to be able to tell why."

"I suppose that's so," admitted Henry, as they worked on, side by side.
"But I don't know what father would say if I sprung a college course on
him!"

"I'd find out," returned Hiram, laughing. "You'd better spend your money
that way than for a horse and buggy. That's the highest ambition of most
boys in the country."

The labor of bushing and grubbing these acres of lowland was no light
one. Hiram insisted that every stub and root be removed that a heavy
plow could not tear out. They had made some progress by noon, however,
when Sister came down with their dinner.

Hiram built a campfire over which the coffee was re-heated, and the
three ate together, Sister enjoying the picnic to the full. She insisted
on helping in the work by piling the brush and roots into heaps for
burning, and she remained until midafternoon.

"I like that Henry boy," she confided to Hiram. "He don't pull my braids,
or poke fun at me."

But Sister was developing and growing fast these days. She was putting
on flesh and color showed in her cheeks. They were no longer hollow and
sallow, and she ran like a colt-and was almost as wild.

The work of clearing the bottom land could not be continued daily; but
the boys got in three full days that week, and Saturday morning. Henry,
did not wish to work on Saturday afternoon, for in this locality almost
all the farmers knocked off work at noon Saturday and went to town.

But when Henry shouldered his tools to go home at noon, Sister appeared
as usual with the lunch, and she and Hiram cut fishing rods and planned
to have a real picnic.

Trout and mullet were jumping in the pools under the bank; and they
caught several before stopping to eat their own meal. The freshly caught
fish were a fine addition to the repast.

They went back to fishing after a while and caught enough for supper at
the farmhouse. Just as they were reeling up their lines the silence of
the place was disturbed by a strange sound.

"There's a motorcycle coming!" cried Sister, jumping up and looking all
around.

There was a bend in the river below this bottom, and another above; so
they could not see far in either direction unless they climbed to the
high ground. For a minute Hiram could not tell in which direction the
sound was coming; but he knew the steady put-put-put must be the exhaust
of a motor-boat.

It soon poked its nose around the lower turn. It was a good-sized boat
and instantly Hiram recognized at least one person aboard.

Miss Lettie Bronson, in a very pretty boating costume, was in the bow.
There were half a dozen other girls with her--well dressed girls, who
were evidently her friends from the St. Beris school at Scoville.

"Oh, oh! what a pretty spot!" cried Lettie, on the instant. "We'll go
ashore here and have our luncheon, girls."

She did not see Hiram and Sister for a moment; but the latter tugged at
Hiram's sleeve.

"I've seen that girl before," she whispered. "She came in the carriage
with the man who spoke to you--you remember? She asked me if I had
always lived in the country, and how I tore my frock."

"Isn't she pretty?" returned Hiram.

"Awfully. But I'm not sure that I like her yet."

Suddenly Lettie saw Hiram and the girl beside him. She started, flushed
a little, and then gave Hiram a cool little nod and turned her gaze from
him. Her manner showed that he was not "down in her good books," and the
young fellow flushed in turn.

"I don't know as we'd better try to make the bank here, Miss," said the
man who was directing the motor-boat. "The current's mighty sharp."

"I want to land here," said Lettie, decidedly. "It's the prettiest spot
we've seen--isn't it, girls?"

Her friends agreed. Hiram, casting a quick eye over the ruffled surface
of the river, saw that the man was right. How well the stream below was
fitted for motor-boating he did not know; but he was pretty sure that
there were too many ledges just under the surface here to make it safe
for the boat to go farther.

"I intend to land here-right by that big tree!" commanded Lettie
Bronson, stamping her foot.

"Well, I dunno," drawled the man; and just then the bow of the boat
swung around, was forced heavily down stream by the current, and slam it
went against a reef!

The man shot off the engine instantly. The bow of the boat was lodged
on the rock, and tip-tilted considerably. The girls screamed, and Lettie
herself was almost thrown into the water, for she was standing.



CHAPTER XVII. MR. PEPPER APPEARS

But Hiram noted again that Lettie Bronson did not display terror. While
her friends were screaming and crying, she sat perfectly quiet, and for
a minute said never a word.

"Can't you back off?" Hi heard her ask the boatman.

"Not without lightening her, Miss. And she may have smashed a plank up
there, too. I dunno."

The Western girl turned immediately to Hiram, who had now come to the
bank's edge. She smiled at him charmingly, and her eyes danced. She
evidently appreciated the fact that the young farmer had her at a
disadvantage--and she had meant to snub him.

"I guess you'll have to help me again, Mr. Strong," she said. "What will
we do? Can you push out a plank to us, or something?"

"I'm afraid not, Miss Bronson," he returned. "I could cut a pole and
reach it to the boat; but you girls couldn't walk ashore on it."

"Oh, dear! have we got to wade?" cried one of Lettie's friends.

"You can't wade. It's too deep between the shore and the boat," Hiram
said, calmly.

"Then--then we'll stay here till the tide rises and dr-dr-drowns us!"
wailed another of the girls, giving way to sobs.

"Don't be a goose, Myra Carroll!" exclaimed Lettie. "If you waited here
for the tide to rise you'd be gray-haired and decrepit. The tide doesn't
rise here. But maybe a spring flood would wash you away."

At that the frightened one sobbed harder than ever. She was one of
those who ever see the dark side of adventure. There was no hope on her
horizon.

"I dunno what you can do for these girls," said the man. "I'd git out
and push off the boat, but I don't dare with them aboard."

But Hiram's mind had not been inactive, if he was standing in seeming
idleness. Sister tugged at his sleeve again and whispered:

"Have they got to stay there and drown, Hi?"

"I guess not," he returned, slowly. "Let's see: this old sycamore
leans right out over them. I can shin up there with the aid of the big
grapevine. Then, if I had a rope----"

"Shall I run and get one?" demanded Sister, listening to him.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Hiram, speaking to the man in the boat.

"Well?" asked the fellow.

"Haven't you got a coil of strong rope aboard?"

"There's the painter," said the man.

"Toss it ashore here," commanded Hiram.

"Oh, Hiram Strong!" cried Lettie. "You don't expect us to walk
tightrope, do you?" and she began to giggle.

"No. I want you to unfasten the end of the rope. I want it clear--that's
it," said Hiram. "And it's long enough, I can see."

"For what?" asked Sister.

"Wait and you'll see," returned the young farmer, hastily coiling the
rope again.

He hung it over his shoulder and then started to climb the big sycamore.
He could go up the bole of this leaning tree very quickly, for the huge
grapevine gave him a hand-hold all the way.

"Whatever are you going to do?" cried Lettie Bronson, looking up at him,
as did the other girls.

"Now," said Hiram, in the first small crotch of the tree, which was
almost directly over the stranded launch, "if you girls have any pluck
at all, I can get you ashore, one by one."

"What do you mean for us to do, Hiram?" repeated Lettie.

The young farmer quickly fashioned a noose at the end of the line--not a
slipnoose, for that would tighten and hurt anybody bearing upon it. This
he dropped down to the boat and Lettie caught it.

"Get your head and shoulders through that noose, Miss Bronson," he
commanded. "Let it come under your arms. I will lift you out of the boat
and swing you back and forth--there's none of you so heavy that I can't
do this, and if you wet your feet a little, what's the odds?"

"Oh, dear! I can never do that!" squealed one of the other girls.

"Guess you'll have to do it if you don't want to stay here all night,"
returned Lettie, promptly. "I see what you want, Hiram," she added, and
quickly adjusted the loop.

"Now, when you swing out over the bank, Sister will grab you, and steady
you. It will be all right if you have a care. Now!" cried Hiram.

Lettie Bronson showed no fear at all as he drew her up and she swung
out of the boat over the swiftly-running current. Hiram laid along the
tree-trunk in an easy position, and began swinging the girl at the end
of the rope, like a pendulum.

The river bank being at least three feet higher than the surface of the
water; he did not have to shift the rope again as he swung the girl back
and forth.

Sister, clinging with her left hand to the grapevine, leaned forward and
clutched Lettie's hand. When she seized it, Sister backed away, and the
swinging girl landed upright upon the bank.

"Oh, that's fun!" Lettie cried, laughing, loosing herself from "the
loop. Now you come, Mary Judson!"

Thus encouraged they responded one by one, and even the girl who had
broken down and cried agreed to be rescued by this simple means. The
boatman then, after removing his shoes and stockings and rolling up his
trousers, stepped out upon the sunken rock and pushed off the boat.

But it was leaking badly. He dared not take aboard his passengers again,
but turned around and went down stream as fast as he could go so as to
beach the boat in a safe place.

"Now how'll we get back to Scoville?" cried one of Lettie's friends. "I
can never walk that far."

Sister had dropped back, shyly, behind Hiram, when he descended the
tree. She had aided each girl ashore; but only Lettie had thanked her.
Now she tugged at Hiram's sleeve.

"Take 'em home in our wagon," she whispered.

"I can take you to Scoville--or to Miss Bronson's--in the farm wagon,"
Hiram said, smiling. "You can sit on straw in the bottom and be
comfortable."

"Oh, a straw ride!" cried Lettie. "What fun! And he can drive us right
to St. Beris--And think what the other girls will say and how they'll
stare!"

The idea seemed a happy one to all the girls save the cry-baby, Myra
Carroll. And her complaints were drowned in the laughter and chatter of
the others.

Hiram picked up the tools, Sister got the string of fish, and they set
out for the Atterson farmhouse. Lettie chatted most of the way with
Hiram; but to Sister, walking on the other side of the young farmer, the
Western girl never said a word.

At the house it was the same. While Hiram was cleaning the wagon and
putting a bed of straw into it, and currying the horse and gearing him
to the wagon, Mrs. Atterson brought a crock of cookies out upon the
porch and talked with the girls from St. Beris. Sister had run indoors
and changed her shabby and soiled frock for a new gingham; but when she
came down to the porch, and stood bashfully in the doorway, none of the
girls from town spoke to her.

Hiram drove up with the farm-wagon. Most of the girls had accepted the
adventure in the true spirit now, and they climbed into the wagon-bed
on the clean straw with laughter and jokes. But nobody invited Sister to
join the party.

The orphan looked wistfully after the wagon as Hiram drove out of
the yard. Then she turned, with trembling lip, to Mother Atterson:
"She--she's awfully pretty," she said, "and Hiram likes her. But
she--they're all proud, and I guess they don't think much of folks like
us, after all."

"Shucks, Sister! we're just good as they be, every bit," returned Mrs.
Atterson, bruskly.

"I know; mebbe we be," admitted Sister, slowly. "But it don't feel so."

And perhaps Hiram had some such thought, too, after he had driven the
girls to the big boarding school in Scoville. For they all got out
without even thanking him or bidding him good-bye--all save Lettie.

"Really, we are a thousand times obliged to you, Hiram Strong," she
said, in her very best manner, and offering him her hand. "As the girls
were my guests I felt I must get them home again safely--and you were
indeed a friend in need."

But then she spoiled it utterly, by adding:

"Now, how much do I owe you, Hiram?" and took out her purse. "Is two
dollars enough?" This put Hiram right in his place. He saw plainly that,
friendly as the Bronsons were, they did not look upon a common farm-boy
as their equal--not in social matters, at least.

"I could not take anything for doing a neighbor a favor, Miss Bronson,"
said Hiram, quietly. "Thank you. Good-day."

Hiram drove back home feeling quite as depressed as Sister, perhaps.
Finally he said to himself:

"Well, some day I'll show 'em!"

After that he put the matter out of his mind and refused to be troubled
by thoughts of Lettie Bronson, or her attitude toward him.

Spring was advancing apace now. Every day saw the development of bud,
leaf and plant. Slowly the lowland was cleared and the brush and roots
were heaped in great piles, ready for the torch.

Hiram could not depend upon this six acres as their only piece of
corn, however. There was the four-acre lot between the barnyard and the
pasture in which he proposed to plant the staple crop.

He drew out the remainder of the coarse manure and spread it upon this
land, as far as it would go. For enriching the remainder of the corn
crop he would have to depend upon a commercial fertilizer. He drew, too,
a couple of tons of lime to be used on this corn land, and left it in
heaps to slake.

And then, out of the clear sky of their progress, came a bolt as
unexpected as could be. They had been less than a month upon the farm.
Uncle Jeptha had not been in his grave thirty days, and Hiram was just
getting into the work of running the place, with success looming ahead.

He had refused Mr. Bronson's offer of a position and had elected to
stick by Mrs. Atterson. He had looked forward to nothing to disturb the
contract between them until the time should be fulfilled.

Yet one afternoon, while he was at work in the garden, Sister came out
to him all in a flurry.

"Mis' Atterson wants you! Mis' Atterson wants you!" cried the girl. "Oh,
Hiram! something dreadful's going to happen. I know, by the way Mis'
Atterson looks. And I don' like the looks o' that man that's come to see
her."

Hiram unhooked the horse at the end of the row and left Sister to lead
him to the stable. He went into the house after knocking the mud off his
boots.

There, sitting in the bright kitchen, was the sharp-featured,
snaky-looking man with whom Hiram had once talked in town. He knew his
name was Pepper, and that he did something in the real estate line, and
insurance, and the like.

"Jest listen to what this man says, Hiram," said Mrs. Atterson, grimly.

"My name's Pepper," began the man, eyeing Hiram curiously.

"So I hear," returned the young farmer.

"Before old Mr. Atterson died we got to talking one day when he was in
town about his selling."

"Well?" returned Hiram. "You didn't say anything about that when you
offered twelve hundred for this place."

"Well," said the man, stubbornly, "that was a good offer."

Hiram turned to Mrs. Atterson. "Do you want to sell for that price?"

"No, I don't, Hi," she said.

"Then that settles it, doesn't it? Mrs. Atterson is the owner, and she
knows her own mind."

"I made Uncle Jeptha a better offer," said Mr. Pepper, "and I'll make
Mrs. Atterson the same--sixteen hundred dollars. It's a run-down farm,
of course----"

"If Mrs. Atterson doesn't want to sell," interrupted Hiram, but here his
employer intervened.

"There's something more, Hi," she said, her face working "strangely.
Tell him, you Pepper!"

"Why, the old man gave me an option on the place, and I risked a twenty
dollar bill on it. The option had--er--a year to run; dated February
tenth last; and I've decided to take the option up," said Mr. Pepper,
his shrewd little eyes dancing in their gaze from Hiram to the old lady
and back again.



CHAPTER XVIII. A HEAVY CLOUD

Now, a rattlesnake is poisonous, but he gives fair warning; a swamp
moccasin lies in wait for the unwary and strikes without sign or sound.
Into Hiram Strong's troubled mind came the thought that Mr. Pepper was
striking like his prototype of the swamps.

A snaky sort of a man was Mr. Pepper--sly, a hand-rubber as he talked,
with a little, sickly grin playing about his thin, mean mouth. When he
opened it Hiram almost expected to see a forked tongue run out.

At least, of one thing was the young farmer sure: Mr. Pepper was no more
to be trusted than a serpent. Therefore, he did not take a word that the
man said on trust.

He recovered from the shock which the statement of the real estate man
had caused, and he uttered no expression of either surprise, or trouble.
Mrs. Atterson he could see was vastly disturbed by the statement; but
somebody had to keep a cool bead in this matter.

"Let's see your option," Hiram demanded, bruskly.

"Why--if Mrs. Atterson wishes to see it----"

"You show it to Hi, you Pepper-man," snapped the old lady. "I wouldn't
do a thing without his advice."

"Oh, well, if you consider a boy's advice material----"

"I know Hi's honest," declared the old lady, tartly. "And that's what
I'm sure you ain't! Besides," she added, sadly, "Hi's as much interested
in this thing as I be. If the farm's got to be sold, it puts Hi out of a
job."

"Oh, very well," said the real estate man, and he drew a rather soiled,
folded paper from his inner pocket.

He seemed to hesitate the fraction of a second about showing the paper.
It increased Hi's suspicion--this hesitancy. If the man had a perfectly
good option on the farm, why didn't he go about the matter boldly?

But when he got the paper in his own hands he could see nothing wrong
with it. It seemed written in straight-forward language, the signatures
were clear enough, and as he had seen and read Uncle Jeptha's will,
he was quite sure that this was the old man's signature to the option
which, for the sum of twenty dollars in hand paid to him, he agreed to
sell his farm, situated so-and-so, for sixteen hundred dollars, cash,
same to be paid over within one year of date.

"Of course," said Hiram, slowly, handing back the paper--indeed, Pepper
had kept the grip of his forefinger and thumb on it all the time--"Of
course, Mrs. Atterson's lawyer must see this before she agrees to
anything."

"Why, Hiram! I ain't got no lawyer," exclaimed the old lady.

"Go to Mr. Strickland, who made Uncle Jeptha's will," Hiram said to her.
Then he turned to Pepper:

"What's the name of the witness to that old man's signature?"

"Abel Pollock."

"Oh! Henry's father?"

"Yes. He's got a son named Henry."

"And who's the Notary Public?"

"Caleb Schell. He keeps the store just at the crossroads as you go into
town."

"I remember the store," said Hiram, thoughtfully.

"But Hiram!" cried Mrs. Atterson, "I don't want to sell the farm."

"We'll be sure this paper is all straight before you do sell, Mrs.
Atterson."

"Why, I just won't sell!" she exclaimed. "Uncle Jeptha never said
nothing in his will about giving this option. And that lawyer says that
in a couple of years the farm will be worth a good deal more than this
Pepper offers."

"Why, Mrs. Atterson!" exclaimed the real estate man, cheerfully, "as
property is selling in this locality now, sixteen hundred dollars is a
mighty good offer for your farm. You ask anybody. Why, Uncle Jeptha knew
it was; otherwise he wouldn't have given me the option, for he didn't
believe I'd come up with the price. He knew it was a high offer."

"And if it's worth so much to you, why isn't it worth more to Mrs.
Atterson to keep?" demanded Hiram, sharply.

"Ah! that's my secret--why I want it," said Pepper, nodding. "Leave that
to me. If I get bit by buying it, I shall have to suffer for my lack of
wisdom."

"You ain't bought it yet--you Pepper," snapped Mrs. Atterson.

"But I'm going to buy it, ma'am," replied he, rather viciously, as he
stood up, ready to depart. "I shall expect to hear from you no later
than Monday."

"I won't sell it!"

"You'll have to. If you refuse to sign I'll go to the Chancery Court.
I'll make you."

"Well. Mebbe you will. But I don't know. I never was made to do anything
yet. By no man named Pepper--you can take that home with you," she flung
after him as he walked out and climbed into the buggy.

But whereas Mrs. Atterson showed anger, Hiram went back to work in the
field with a much deeper feeling racking his mind. If the option was all
right--and of course it must be--this would settle their occupancy of
the farm.

Of course he could not hold Mrs. Atterson to her contract. She could not
help the situation that had now arisen.

His Spring's work had gone for nothing. Sixteen hundred dollars, even in
cash, would not be any great sum for the old lady. And she had burdened
herself with the support of Sister--and with Old Lem Camp, too!

"Surely, I can't be a burden on her. I'll have to hustle around and find
another job. I wonder if Mr. Bronson would take me on now?"

But he knew that the Westerner already had a man who suited him, since
Hiram had refused the chance Bronson offered. And, then, Lettie had
shown that she felt he had not appreciated their offer. Perhaps her
father felt the same way.

Besides, Hiram had a secret wish not to put himself under obligation
to the Bronsons. This feeling may have sprung from a foolish source;
nevertheless it was strong with the young farmer.

It looked very much to him as though this sudden turn of circumstances
was "a facer". If Mrs. Atterson had to sell the farm he was likely to be
thrown on his own resources again.

For his own selfish sake Hiram was worried, too. After all, he would
be unable to "make good" and to show people that he could make the old,
run-down farm pay a profit to its owner.

But Hiram Strong couldn't believe it.

The more he milled over the thing in his mind, the less he understood
why Uncle Jeptha, who was of acute mind right up to the hour of his
death, so all the neighbors said, should have neglected to speak about
the option he had given Pepper on the farm.

And here they were, right in the middle of the Spring work, with crops
in the ground and--as Mrs. Atterson agreed--it would be too late to go
hunting a farm for this present season.

But Hiram kept to work. He had Sister and Old Lem Camp out in the
garden, hand-weeding and thinning the carrots, onions, and other tender
plants. That Saturday he went through the entire garden--that part
already planted--with either the horse cultivator, or his wheel-hoe.

In planting parsnips, carrots, and other slow-germinating seeds, he had
mixed a few radish seed in the seeding machine; these sprang up quickly
and defined the rows, so that the space between rows could be cultivated
before the other plants had scarcely broke the surface of the soil.

Now these radish were beginning to be big enough to pull. Hiram brought
in a few bunches for their dinner on Saturday--the first fruits of the
garden.

"Now, I dunno why it is," said Mrs. Atterson, complacently, after
setting her teeth in the first radish and relishing its crispness,
"but this seems a whole lot better than the radishes we used to buy in
Crawberry. I 'spect what's your very own always seems better than other
folks's," and she sighed and shook her head.

She was thinking of the thing she had to face on Monday. Hiram hated to
see them all so downhearted. Sister's eyes were red from weeping; Old
Lem Camp sat at the table, muttering and playing with his food again
instead of eating.

But Hiram felt as though he could not give up to the disaster that had
come to them. The thought that--in some way--Pepper was taking an unfair
advantage of Mother Atterson knocked continually at the door of his
mind.

He went over, to himself, all that had passed in the kitchen the day
before when the real estate man had come to speak with Mrs. Atterson.
How had Pepper spoken about the option? Hadn't there been some hesitancy
in the fellow's manner--in his speech, indeed? Just what had Pepper
said? Hiram concentrated his mind upon this one thing. What had the man
said?

"The option had--er--one year to run."

Those were the fellow's very words. He hesitated before he pronounced
the length of time. And he was not a man who, in speaking, had any
stammering of tongue.

Why had he hesitated? Why should it trouble him to state the time limit
of the option?

Was it because he was speaking a falsehood?

The thought stung Hiram like a thorn in the flesh. He put away the tool
with which he was working, slipped on a coat, and started for Henry
Pollock's house, which lay not more than half a mile from the Atterson
farm, across the fields.



CHAPTER XIX. THE REASON WHY

HIRAM found Abel Pollock mending harness in the shed. Hiram opened his
business bluntly, and told the farmer what was up. Mr. Pollock scratched
his head, listened attentively, and then sat down to digest the news.

"You gotter move--jest when you've got rightly settled on that place?"
he demanded. "Well, that's 'tarnal bad! And from what Henry tells me,
you're a young feller with idees, too."

"I don't care so much for myself," Hiram hastened to say. "It's Mrs.
Atterson I'm thinking about. And she had just made up her mind that she
was anchored for the rest of her life. Besides, I don't think it is a
wise thing to sell the property at that price."

"No. I wouldn't sell if I was her, for no sixteen hundred dollars."

"But she's got to, you see, Mr. Pollock. Pepper has the option signed by
her Uncle Jeptha----"

"Jeptha Atterson was no fool," interrupted Pollock. "I can't understand
his giving an option on the farm, with all this talk of the railroad
crossing the river."

"But, Mr. Pollock!" exclaimed Hiram, eagerly, "you must know all about
this option. You signed as a witness to Uncle Jeptha's signature."

"No! you don't mean that?" exclaimed the farmer. "My name to it, too?"

"Yes. And it was signed before Caleb Schell the notary public."

"So it was--so it was, boy!" declared the other, suddenly smiting his
knee. "I remember I witnessed Uncle Jeptha's signature once. But that
was way back there in the winter--before he was took sick."

"Yes, sir?" said Hiram, eagerly.

"That was an option on the old farm. So it was. But goodness me, boy,
Pepper must have got him to renew it, or something. That option wouldn't
have run till now."

Hiram told him the date the paper was executed.

"That's right, by Jo! It was in February."

"And it was for a year?"

Mr. Pollock stared at him in silence, evidently thinking deeply.

"If you remember all about it, then," Hiram continued, "it's hardly
worth while going to Mr. Schell, I suppose."

"I remember, all right," said Pollock, slowly. "It was all done right
there in Cale Schell's store. It was one rainy afternoon. There was
several of us sitting around Cale's stove. Pepper was one of us. In
comes Uncle Jeptha. Pepper got after him right away, but sort of on the
quiet, to one side.

"I heard 'em. Pepper had made him an offer for the farm that was 'way
down low, and the old man laughed at him.

"We hadn't none of us heard then the talk that came later about the
railroad. But Pepper has a brother-in-law who's in the office of the
company, and he thinks he gits inside information.

"So, for some reason, he thought the railroad was going to touch
Uncle Jeptha's farm. O' course, it ain't. It's goin' over the river by
Ayertown.

"I don't see what Pepper wants to take up the option for, anyway. Unless
he sees that you're likely to make suthin' out o' the old place, and
mebbe he's got a city feller on the string, to buy it."

"It doesn't matter what his reason is. Mrs. Atterson doesn't want to
sell, and if that option is all right, she must," said Hiram. "And you
are sure Uncle Jeptha gave it for twelve months?"

"Twelve months?" ejaculated Pollock, suddenly. "Why--no--that don't seem
right," stammered the farmer, scratching his head.

"But that's the way the option reads."

"Well--mebbe. I didn't just read it myself--no, sir. They jest says to
me:

"'Come here, Pollock, and witness these signatures' So, I done
it--that's all. But I see Cale put on his specs and read the durn thing
through before he stamped it. Yes, sir. Cale's the carefulest notary
public we ever had around here.

"Say!" said Mr. Pollock. "You go to Cale and ask him. It don't seem to
me the old man give Pepper so long a time."

"For how long was the option to run, then?" queried Hiram, excitedly.



"Wal, I wouldn't wanter say. I don't wanter git inter trouble with no
neighbor. If Cale says a year is all right, then I'll say so, too. I
wouldn't jest trust my memory."

"But there is some doubt in your mind, Mr. Pollock?"

"There is. A good deal of doubt," the farmer assured him. "But you ask
Cale."

This was all that Hiram could get out of the elder Pollock. It was not
very comforting. The young farmer was of two minds whether he should see
Caleb Schell, or not.

But when he got back to the house for supper, and saw the doleful faces
of the three waiting there, he couldn't stand inaction.

"If you don't mind, I want to go to town tonight, Mrs. Atterson," he
told the old lady.

"All right, Hiram. I expect you've got to look out for yourself, boy.
If you can get another job, you take it. It's a 'tarnal shame you didn't
take up with that Bronson's offer when he come here after you."

"You needn't feel so," said Hiram. "You're no more at fault than I am.
This thing just happened--nobody could foretell it. And I'm just as
sorry as I can be for you, Mother Atterson."

The old woman wiped her eyes.

"Well, Hi, there's other things in this world to worry over besides
gravy, I find," she said. "Some folks is born for trouble, and mebbe
we're some of that kind."

It was not exactly Mr. Pollock's doubts that sent Hiram Strong down
to the crossroads store that evening. For the farmer had seemed so
uncertain that the boy couldn't trust to his memory at all.

No. It was Hiram's remembrance of Pepper's stammering when he spoke
about the option. He hesitated to pronounce the length of time the
option had been drawn for. Was it because he knew there was some trick
about the time-limit?

Had the real estate man fooled old Uncle Jeptha in the beginning? The
dead man had been very shrewd and careful. Everybody said so.

He was conscious and of acute mind right up to his death. If there was
an option on the farm be surely would have said something about it to
Mr. Strickland, or to some of the neighbors.

It looked to Hiram as though the old farmer must have believed that the
option had expired before the day of his death.

Had Pepper only got the old man's promise for a shorter length of time,
but substituted the paper reading "one year" when it was signed? Was
that the mystery?

However, Hiram could not see how that would help Mrs. Atterson, for even
testimony of witnesses who heard the discussion between the dead man and
the real estate agent, could not controvert a written instrument. The
young fellow knew that.

He harnessed the old horse to the light wagon and drove to the
crossroads store kept by Caleb Schell. Many of the country people liked
to trade with this man because his store was a social gathering-place.

Around a hot stove in the winter, and a cold stove at this time of year,
the men gathered to discuss the state of the country, local politics,
their neighbors' business, and any other topic which was suggested to
their more or less idle minds.

On the outskirts of the group of older loafers, the growing crop of men
who would later take their places in the soap-box forum lingered; while
sky-larking about the verge of the crowd were smaller boys who were
learning no good, to say the least, in attaching themselves to the older
members of the company.

There will always be certain men in every community who take delight in
poisoning the minds of the younger generation. We muzzle dogs, or shoot
them when they go mad. The foul-mouthed man is far more vicious than the
dog, and should be impounded.

Hiram hitched his horse to the rack before the store and entered the
crowded place. The fumes of tobacco smoke, vinegar, cheese, and various
other commodities gave a distinctive flavor to Caleb Schell's store--and
not a pleasant one, to Hiram's mind.

Ordinarily he would have made any purchases he had to make, and gone out
at once. But Schell was busy with several customers at the counter and
he was forced to wait a chance to speak with the old man.

One of the first persons Hiram saw in the store was young Pete
Dickerson, hanging about the edge of the crowd. Pete scowled at him and
moved away. One of the men holding down a cracker-keg sighted Hiram and
hailed him in a jovial tone:

"Hi, there, Mr. Strong! What's this we been hearin' about you? They
say you had a run-in with Sam Dickerson. We been tryin' to git the
pertic'lars out o' Pete, here, but he don't seem ter wanter talk about
it," and the man guffawed heartily.

"Hear ye made Sam give back the tools he borrowed of the old man?" said
another man, whom Hiram knew to be Mrs. Larriper's son-in-law.

"You are probably misinformed," said Hiram, quietly. "I know no reason
why Mr. Dickerson and I should have trouble--unless other neighbors make
trouble for us."

"Right, boy--right!" called Cale Schell, from behind the counter, where
he could hear and comment upon all that went on in the middle of the
room, despite the attention he had to give to his customers.

"Well, if you can git along with Sam and Pete, you'll do well," laughed
another of the group.

The Dickersons seemed to be in disfavor in the community, and nobody
cared whether Pete repeated what was said to his father, or not.

"I was told," pursued the first speaker, screwing up one eye and
grinning at Hiram, "that you broke Sam's gun over his head and chased
Pete a mile. That right, son?"

"You will get no information from me," returned Hiram, tartly.

"Why, Pete ought to be big enough to lick you alone, Strong," continued
the tantalizer. "Hey, Pete! Don't sneak out. Come and tell us why you
didn't give this chap the lickin' you said you was going to?"

Pete only glared at him and slunk out of the store. Hiram turned his
back on the whole crowd and waited at the end of the counter for Mr.
Schell. The storekeeper was a tall, portly man, with a gray mustache and
side-whiskers, and a high bald forehead.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Strong?" he asked, finally having got rid of
the customers who preceded Hiram.

Hiram, in a low voice, explained his mission. Schell nodded his head at
once.

"Oh, yes," he said; "I remember about the option. I had forgotten it,
for a fact; but Pepper was in here yesterday talking about it. He had
been to your house."

"Then, sir, to the best of your remembrance, the option is all right?"

"Oh, certainly! Pollock witnessed it, and I put my seal on it. Yes, sir;
Pepper can make the old lady sell. It's too bad, if she wants to remain
there; but the price he is to pay isn't so bad----"

"You have no reason to doubt the validity of the option?" cried Hiram,
in desperation.

"Assuredly not."

"Then why didn't Uncle Jeptha speak of it to somebody before he died, if
the option had not run out at that time?"

"Humph!"

"You grant the old man was of sound mind?"

"Sound as a pine knot," agreed the storekeeper, still reflective.

"Then how is it he did not speak to his lawyer about the option when he
saw Mr. Strickland within an hour of his death?"

"That does seem peculiar," admitted the storekeeper, slowly.

"And Mr. Pollock says he thinks there is something wrong about the
option," went on Hiram, eagerly.

"Oh, Pollock! Pah!" returned Schell. "I don't suppose he even read it."

"But you did?"

"Assuredly. I always read every paper. If they don't want me to know
what the agreement is, they can take it to some other Notary," declared
the storekeeper with a jolly laugh.

"And you are sure that the option was to run a year?"

"Of course the option's all right--Hold on! A year, did you say?
Why--seems to me--let's look this thing up," concluded Caleb Schell,
suddenly.

He dived into his little office and produced a ledger from the safe.
This he slapped down on the counter between them.

"I'm a careful man, I am," he told Hiram. "And I flatter myself I've got
a good memory, too. Pepper was in here yesterday sputtering about the
option and I remember now that he spoke of its running a year.

"But it seems to me," said Schell, pawing over the leaves of his ledger,
"that the talk between him and old Uncle Jeptha was for a short time.
The old man was mighty cautious--mighty cautious."

"That's what Mr. Pollock says," cried Hiram, eagerly.

"But you've seen the option?

"Yes."

"And it reads a year?

"Oh, yes."

"Then how you going to get around that?" demanded Schell, with
conviction.

"But perhaps Uncle Jeptha signed the option thinking it was for a
shorter time."

"That wouldn't help you none. The paper was signed. And why should
Pepper have buncoed him--at that time?"

"Why should he be so eager to get the farm now?" asked Hiram.

"Well, I'll tell you. It ain't out yet. But two or three days ago the
railroad board abandoned the route through Ayertown and it is agreed
that the new bridge will be built along there by your farm somewhere.

"The river is as narrow there as it is anywhere for miles up and down,
and they will stretch a bridge from the high bank on your side, across
the meadows, to the high bank on the other side. It will cut out grades,
you see. That's what has started Pepper up to grab off the farm while
the option is valid."

"But, Mr. Schell, is the option valid?" cried Hiram, anxiously.

"I don't see how you're going to get around it. Ah! here's the place.
When I have sealed a paper I make a note of it--what the matter was
about and who the contracting parties were. I've done that for years.
Let--me--see."

He adjusted his spectacles. He squinted at the page, covered closely
with writing. Hiram saw him whispering the words he read to himself.
Suddenly the blood flooded into the old man's face, and he looked up
with a start at his interrogator.

"Do you mean to say that option's for a year? he demanded.

"That is the way it reads--now," whispered Hiram, watching him closely.

The old man turned the book around slowly on the counter. His stubbed
finger pointed to the two or three scrawled lines written in a certain
place.

Hiram read them slowly, with beating heart.



CHAPTER XX. AN ENEMY IN THE DARK

The whispered conference between Hiram Strong and the storekeeper could
not be heard by the curious crowd around the cold stove; nor did it last
for long.

Caleb Schell finally closed his ledger and put it away. Hiram shook
hands with him and walked out.

On the platform outside, which was illuminated by a single smoky
lantern, a group of small boys were giggling, and they watched Hiram
unhitch the old horse and climb into the spring wagon with so much
hilarity that the young farmer expected some trick.

The horse started off all right, he missed nothing from the wagon, and
so he supposed that he was mistaken. The boys had merely been laughing
at him because he was a stranger.

But as Hiram got some few yards from the hitching rack, the seat was
suddenly pulled from under him, and he was left sprawling on his back in
the bottom of the wagon.

A yell of derision from the crowd outside the store assured him that
this was the cause of the boys' hilarity. Luckily his old horse was of
quiet disposition, and he stopped dead in his tracks when the seat flew
out of the back of the wagon.

A joke is a joke. No use in showing wrath over this foolish amusement of
the crossroads boys. But Hiram got a little the best of them, after all.

The youngsters had scattered when the "accident" occurred. Hiram,
getting out to pick up the seat, found the end of a strong hemp line
fastened to it. The other end was tied to the hitching rack in front of
the store.

Instead of casting off the line from the seat, Hiram walked back to the
store and cast that end off.

"At any rate, I'm in a good coil of hemp rope," he said to one of the
men who had come out to see the fun. "The fellow who owns it can come
and prove property; but I shall ask a few questions of him."

There was no more laughter. The young farmer walked back to his wagon,
set up the seat again, and drove on.

The roadway was dark, but having been used all his life to country
roads at night, Hiram had no difficulty in seeing the path before him.
Besides, the old horse knew his way home.

He drove on some eighth of a mile. Suddenly he felt that the wagon
was not running true. One of the wheels was yawing. He drew in the old
horse; but he was not quick enough.

The nigh forward wheel rolled off the end of the axle, and down came the
wagon with a crash!

Hiram was thrown forward and came sprawling--on hands and knees--upon
the ground, while the wheel rolled into the ditch. He was little hurt,
although the accident might have been serious.

And in truth, he knew it to be no accident. A burr does not easily work
off the end of an axle. He had greased the old wagon just before he
started for the store, and he knew he had replaced each nut carefully.

This was a deliberately malicious trick--no boy's joke like the tying of
the rope to his wagon seat. And the axle was broken. Although he had
no lantern he could see that the wagon could not be used again without
being repaired.

"Who did it?" was Hiram's unspoken question, as he slowly unharnessed
the old horse, and then dragged the broken wagon entirely out of the
road so that it would not be an obstruction for other vehicles.

His mind set instantly upon Pete Dickerson. He had not seen the boy
when he came out of the crossroads store. If the fellow had removed this
burr, he had done it without anybody seeing him, and had then run home.

The young farmer, much disturbed over this incident, mounted the back
of the old horse, and paced home. He only told Mrs. Atterson that he had
met with an accident and that the light wagon would have to be repaired
before it could be used again.

That necessitated their going to town on Monday in the heavy wagon. And
Hiram dragged the spring wagon to the blacksmith shop for repairs, on
the way.

But before that, the enemy in the dark had struck again. When Hiram
went to the barnyard to water the stock, Sunday morning, he found that
somebody had been bothering the pump.

The bucket, or pump-valve, was gone. He had to take it apart, cut a new
valve out of sole leather, and put the pump together again.

"We'll have to get a cross dog, if we remain here," he told Mrs.
Atterson. "There is somebody in the neighborhood who means us harm."

"Them Dickersons!" exclaimed Mrs. Atterson.

"Perhaps. That Pete, maybe. If I once caught him up to his tricks I'd
make him sorry enough."

"Tell the constable, Hi," cried Sister, angrily.

"That would make trouble for his folks. Maybe they don't know just how
mean Pete is. A good thrashing--and the threat of another every time he
did anything mean--would do him lots more good."

This wasn't nice Sunday work, but it was too far to carry water from the
house to the horse trough, so Hiram had to repair the pump.

On Monday morning he routed out Sister and Mr. Camp at daybreak. He had
been up and out for an hour himself, and on a bench under the shed he
had heaped two or three bushels of radishes which he had pulled and
washed, ready for bunching.

He showed his helpers how the pretty scarlet balls were to be bunched,
and found that Sister took hold of the work with nimble fingers, while
Mr. Camp did very well at the unaccustomed task.

"I don't know, Hi," said Mrs. Atterson, despondently, "that it's worth
while your trying to sell any of the truck, if we're going to leave here
so soon."

"We haven't left yet," he returned, trying to speak cheerfully. "And you
might as well get every penny back that you can. Perhaps an arrangement
can be made whereby we can stay and harvest the garden crop, at any
rate."

"You can make up your mind that that Pepper man won't give us any
leeway; he isn't that kind," declared Mother Atterson, with conviction.

Hiram made a quick sale of the radishes at several of the stores, where
he got eighteen cents a dozen bunches; but some he sold at the big
boarding-school--St. Beris--at a retail price.

"You can bring any other fresh vegetables you may have from time
to time," the housekeeper told him. "Nobody ever raised any early
vegetables about Scoville before. They are very welcome."

"Once we get a-going," said Hiram to Mrs. Atterson, "you or Sister can
drive in with the spring wagon and dispose of the surplus vegetables.
And you might get a small canning outfit--they come as cheap as fifteen
dollars--and put up tomatoes, corn, peas, beans, and other things. Good
canned stuff always sells well."

"Good Land o' Goshen, Hiram!" exclaimed the old lady, in desperation.
"You talk jest as though we were going to stay on the farm."

"Well, let's go and see Mr. Strickland," replied the young farmer, and
they set out for the lawyer's office.

Mrs. Atterson sat in the ante-room while Hiram asked to speak with the
old lawyer in private for a minute. The conference was not for long, and
when Hiram came back to his employer he said:

"Mr. Strickland has sent his junior clerk out for Pepper. He thinks we'd
better talk the matter over quietly. And he wants to see the option,
too."

"Oh, Hiram! There ain't no hope, is there?" groaned the old lady.

"Well, I tell you what!" exclaimed the young fellow, "we won't give in
to him until we have to. Of course, if you refuse to sign a deed he
can go to chancery and in the end you will have to pay the costs of the
action.

"But perhaps, even at that, it might be well to hold him off until you
have got the present crop out of the ground."

"Oh, I won't go to law," said Mrs. Atterson, decidedly. "No good ever
come of that."

After a time Mr. Strickland invited them both into his private office.
The attorney spoke quietly of other matters while they waited for
Pepper.

But the real estate man did not appear. By and by Mr. Strickland's clerk
came back with the report that Pepper had been called away suddenly on
important business.

"They tell me he went Saturday," said the clerk. "He may not be back
for a week. But he said he was going to buy the Atterson place when he
returned--he's told several people around town so."

"Ah!" said Mr. Strickland, slowly. "Then he has left that threat
hanging, like the Sword of Damocles--over Mrs. Atterson's head?"

"I don't know nothin' about that sword, Mr. Strickland, nor no
other sword, 'cept a rusty one that my father carried when he was a
hoss-sodger in the Rebellion," declared Mother Atterson, nervously. "But
if that Pepper man's got one belonging to Mr. Damocles, I shouldn't be
at all surprised. That Pepper looked to me like a man that would take
anything he could lay his hands on--if he warn't watched!"

"Which is a true and just interpretation of Pepper's character, I
believe," observed the lawyer, smiling.

"And we've got to give up the farm at his say-so--at any time?" demanded
the old lady.

"If his option is good," said Mr. Strickland. "But I want to see the
paper--and I can assure you, Mrs. Atterson, that I shall subject it to
the closest possible scrutiny.

"There is a possibility that Pepper's option may be questioned before
the courts. Do not build too many hopes on this," he added, quickly,
seeing the old lady's face light up.

"You have a very good champion in this young man," and the lawyer nodded
at Hiram.

"He suspected all was not right with the option and he has dug up the
fact that the witness to your uncle's signature, and the man before whom
the paper was attested, both believed the option was for a short time.

"Caleb Schell's book shows that it was for thirty days. Uncle Jeptha
undoubtedly thought it was for that length of time and therefore the
option expired several days before he died.

"Mr. Pepper may have fallen under temptation. He considered heretofore,
like everybody else, that the railroad would pass us by in this section.
Pepper gambled twenty dollars on its coming along the boundary of the
Atterson farm--between you and Darrell's tract--and thought he had lost.

"Then suddenly the railroad board turned square around and voted for the
condemnation of the original route. Pepper remembered the option he had
risked twenty dollars on. If it was originally for thirty days, it was
void, of course; but Uncle Jeptha is dead, and he hopes perhaps, that
nobody else will dispute the validity of it."

"It's a forgery, then?" cried Mrs. Atterson.

"It may be a forgery. We do not know," said the lawyer, hastily. "At any
rate, he has the paper, and he is a shrewd rascal."

Mrs. Atterson's face was a study.

"Do you mean to tell me we have got to lose the farm?" she demanded.

"My dear lady, that I cannot tell you. I must see this option. We must
put it to the test----"

"But Schell and Pollock will testify that the option was for thirty
days," cried Hiram.

"Perhaps. To the best of their remembrance and belief, it was for
thirty days. A shrewd lawyer, however--and Pepper would employ a shrewd
one--would turn their evidence inside out.

"No evidence--in theory, at least--can controvert a written instrument,
signed, sealed, and delivered. Even Cale Schell's memoranda book cannot
be taken as evidence, save in a contributory way. It is not direct. It
is the carelessly scribbled record, in pencil, of a busy man.

"No. If Pepper puts forward the option we have got to see if that
option has been tampered with--the paper itself, I mean. If the fellow
substituted a different instrument, at the time of signing, from the one
Uncle Jeptha thought he signed, you have no case--I tell you frankly, my
dear lady."

"Then, it ain't no use. We got to lose the place, Hiram," said Mrs.
Atterson, when they left the lawyer's office.

"I wouldn't lose heart. If Pepper is scared, he may not trouble you
again."

"It's got ten months more to run," said she. "He can keep us guessin' all
that time."

"That is so," agreed Hiram, nodding thoughtfully. "But, of course, as
Mr. Strickland says, by raising a doubt as to the validity of the option
we can hold him off for a while--maybe until we have made this year's
crop."

"It's goin' to make me lay awake o' nights," sighed the old lady. "And
I thought I'd got through with that when I stopped worryin' about the
gravy."

"Well, we won't talk about next year," agreed Hiram. "I'll do the best I
can for you through this season, if Pepper will let us alone. We've got
the bottom land practically cleared; we might as well plough it and put
in the corn there. If we make a crop you'll get all your money back and
more. Mr. Strickland told me privately that the option, unless it read
that way, would not cover the crops in the ground. And I read the option
carefully. Crops were not mentioned."

So it was decided to go ahead with the work as already planned;
but neither the young farmer, nor his employer, could look forward
cheerfully to the future.

The uncertainty of what Pepper would eventually do was bound to be in
their thought, day and night.



CHAPTER XXI. THE WELCOME TEMPEST

To some youths this matter of the option would have been such a clog
that they would have lost interest and slighted the work. But not so
with Hiram Strong.

He counted this day a lost one, however; he hated to leave the farm for
a minute when there was so much to do.

But the next morning he got the plow into the four-acre corn lot; and
he did nothing but the chores that week until the ground was entirely
plowed. Then Henry Pollock came over and gave him another day's work and
they finished grubbing the lowland.

The rubbish was piled in great heaps down there, ready for burning. As
long as the rain held off, Hiram did not put fire to the bush-heaps.

But early in the following week the clouds began to gather in a quarter
for rain, and late in the afternoon, when the air was still, he took a
can of coal oil, and with Sister and Mr. Camp, and even Mrs. Atterson,
at his heels, went down to the riverside to burn the brush heaps.

"There's not much danger of the fire spreading to the woods; but if it
should," Hiram said, warningly, "it might, at this time of year, do your
timber a couple of hundred dollars' worth of damage."

"Goodness me!" exclaimed Mother Atterson. "It does seem ridiculous to
hear you talk that a-way. I never owned nothin' but a little bit of
furniture before, and I expected the boarders to tear that all to
pieces. I'm beginning to feel all puffed up and wealthy."

Hiram cut them all green pineboughs for beaters, and then set the fires,
one after another. There were more than twenty of the great piles and
soon the river bottom, from bend to bend, was filled with rolling clouds
of smoke. As the dusk dropped, the yellow glare of the fire illuminated
the scene.

Sister clapped her hands and cried:

"Ain't this bully? It beats the Fourth of July celebration in Crawberry.
Oh, I'd rather be on the farm than go to heaven!"

They had brought their supper with them, and leaving the others to watch
the fires, and see that the grass did not tempt the flames to the edge
of the wood, Hiram cast bait into the river and, in an hour, drew out
enough mullet and "bull-heads" to satisfy them all, when they were
broiled over the hot coals of the first bonfire to be lighted.

They ate with much enjoyment. Between nine and ten o'clock the fires had
all burned down to coals.

A circle of burned-over grass and rubbish surrounded each fire. There
seemed no possibility that the flames could spread to the mat of dry
leaves on the side hill.

So they went home, a lantern guiding their feet over the rough path
through the timber, stopping at the spring for a long, thirst-quenching
draught.

The sky was as black as ink. Now and again a faint flash in the westward
proclaimed a tempest in that direction. But not a breath of wind was
stirring, and the rain might not reach this section.

A dull red glow was reflected on the clouds over the river-bottom. When
Hiram looked from his window, just as he was ready for bed, that glow
seemed to have increased.

"Strange," he muttered. "It can't be that those fires have spread. There
was no chance for them to spread. I--don't--understand it!"

He sat at the window and stared out through the darkness. There was
little wind as yet; it was a fact, however, that the firelight flickered
on the low-hung clouds with increasing radiance.

"Am I mad?" demanded the young farmer, suddenly leaping up and drawing
on his garments again. "That fire is spreading."

He dressed fully, and ran softly down the stairs and left the house.
When he came out in the clear the glow had not receded. There was a fire
down the hillside, and it seemed increasing every moment.

He remembered the enemy in the dark, and without stopping to rouse the
household, ran on toward the woods, his heart beating heavily in his
bosom.

Slipping, falling at times, panting heavily because of the rough ground,
Hiram came at last through the more open timber to the brink of that
steep descent, at the bottom of which lay the smoky river-bottom.

And indeed, the whole of the lowland seemed filled with stifling clouds
of smoke. Yet, from a dozen places along the foot of the hill, yellow
flames were starting up, kindling higher, and devouring as fast as might
be the leaves and tinder left from the wrack of winter.

The nearest bonfire had been a hundred yards from the foot of this hill.
His care, Hiram knew, had left no chance of the dull coals in any of the
twenty heaps spreading to the verge of the grove.

Man's hand had done this. An enemy, waiting and watching until they had
left the field, had stolen down, gathered burning brands, and spread
them along the bottom of the hill, where the increasing wind might
scatter the fire until the whole grove was in a blaze.

Not only was Mrs. Atterson's timber in danger, but Darrell's tract
and that lying beyond would be overwhelmed by the flames if they were
allowed to spread.

On the other side, Dickerson had cut his timber a year or two before,
clear to the river. The fire would not burn far over his line. Whoever
had done this dastardly act, Dickerson's property would not be damaged.

But Hiram lent no time to trouble. His work was cut out for him right
here and now--and well he knew it!

He had brought the small axe with him, having caught it up from the
doorstep. Now he used it to cut a green bough, and then ran with the
latter down the hill and set upon the fire-line like a madman.

The smoke, spread here and there by puffs of rising wind, half choked
him. It stung his eyes until they distilled water enough to blind him.
He thrashed and fought in the fumes and the murk of it, stumbling and
slipping, one moment half-knee deep in quick-springing flames, the next
almost overpowered by the smudge that rose from the beaten mat of leaves
and rubbish.

It was a lone fight. He had to do it all. There had been no time to
rouse either the neighbors, or the rest of the family.

If he did not overcome these flames--and well he knew it--Mother
Atterson would arise in the morning to see all her goodly timber
scorched, perhaps ruined!

"I must beat it out--beat it out!" thought Hiram, and the repetition
of the words thrummed an accompaniment upon the drums of his ears as he
thrashed away with a madman's strength.

For no sane person would have tackled such a hopeless task. Before
him the flames suddenly leaped six feet or more into the air. They
overtopped him as they writhed through a clump of green-briars. The wind
puffed the flame toward him, and his face was scorched by the heat.

He lost his eyebrows completely, and the hair was crisped along the
front brim of his hat.

Then with a laughing crackle, as though scorning his weakness, the
flames ran up a climbing vine and the next moment wrapped a tall pine in
lurid yellow.

This pine, like a huge torch, began to give off a thick, black smoke.
Would some wakeful neighboring farmer, seeing it, know the danger that
menaced and come to Hiram's help?

For yards he had beaten flat the flames and stamped out every spark.
Behind him was naught but rolling smoke. It was dark there. No flames
were eating up the slope.

But toward Darrell's tract the fire seemed on the increase. He could not
catch up with it. And this solitary, sentinel pine, ablaze now in all
its head, threatened to fling sparks for a hundred yards.

If the wind continued to rise, the forest was doomed!

His green branch had burned to a crisp. He had lost his axe in the
darkness and the smoke, and now he tore another bough, by main strength,
from its parent stem.

Hiram Strong worked as though inspired; but to no purpose in the end.
For the flames increased. Puff after puff of wind drove the fire on,
scattering brands from the blazing pine; and now another, and another,
tree caught. The glare of the conflagration increased.

He flung down the useless bough. Fire was all about him. He had to leap
suddenly to one side to escape a burst of flame that had caught in a
jungle of green-briars.

Then, of a sudden, a crash of thunder rolled and reverberated through
the glen. Lightning for an instant lit up the meadows and the river.
The glare of it almost blinded the young farmer and, out of the line of
fire, he sank to the earth and covered his eyes, seared by the sudden,
compelling light.

Again and again the thunder rolled, following the javelins of lightning
that seemed to dart from the clouds to the earth. The tempest, so long
muttering in the West, had come upon him unexpectedly, for he had given
all his attention to the spreading fire.

And now came the rain--no refreshing, sweet, saturating shower; but a
thunderous, blinding fall of water that first set the burning woods to
steaming and then drowned out every spark of fire on upland as well as
lowland.

It was a cloudburst--a downpour such as Hiram had seldom experienced
before. Exhausted, he lay on the bank and let the pelting rain soak him
to the skin.

He did not care. Half drowned by the beating rain, he only crowed his
delight at the downpour. Every spark of fire was flooded out. The danger
was past.

He finally arose, and staggered through the downpour to the house, only
happy that--by a merciful interposition of Providence--the peril had
been overcome.

He tore off his clothing on the stoop, there in the pitch darkness, and
crept up to his bedroom where he rubbed himself down with a crash-towel,
and finally tumbled into bed and slept like a log till broad daylight.



CHAPTER XXII. FIRST FRUITS

For the first time since they had come to the farm, Hiram was the
last to get up in the house. And when he came down to breakfast,
still trembling from the exertion of the previous night, Mrs. Atterson
screamed at the sight of him.

"For the good Land o' Goshen!" she cried. "You look like a singed
chicken, Hiram Strong! Whatever have you been doing to yourself?"

He told them of the fight he had had while they slept. But he could talk
about it jokingly now, although Sister was inclined to snivel a little
over his danger.

"That Dickerson boy ought to be lashed--Nine and thirty lashes--none too
much--This sausage is good--humph!--and pancakes--fit for the gods--But
he'll come back--do more damage--the butter, yes I I want butter--and
syrup, though two spreads is reckless extravagance--Eh? eh? can't prove
anything against that Dickerson lout?-well, mebbe not."

So Old Lem Camp commented upon the affair. But Hiram could not prove
that the neighbor's boy had done any of these things which pointed to a
malicious enemy.

The young farmer began to wonder if he could not lay a trap, and so
bring about his undoing.

As soon as the ground was in fit condition again (for the nights rain
had been heavy) Hiram scattered the lime he had planned to use upon
the four acres of land plowed for corn, and dragged it in with a
spike-toothed harrow.

Working as he was with one horse alone, this took considerable time,
and when this corn land was ready, it was time for him to go through the
garden piece again with the horse cultivator.

Sister and Lem Camp, both, had learned to use the man-weight wheel-hoe,
and the fine stuff was thinned and the weeds well cut out. From time
to time the young farmer had planted peas--both the dwarf and taller
varieties--and now he risked putting in some early beans--"snap" and
bush limas--and his first planting of sweet corn.

Of the latter he put in four rows across the garden, each, of sixty-five
day, seventy-five day, and ninety day sugar corn--all of well-known
kinds. He planned later to put in, every fortnight, four rows of a
mid-length season corn, so as to have green corn for sale, and for the
house, up to frost.

The potatoes were growing finely and he hilled them up for the first
time. He marked his four-acre lot for field corn--cross-checking it
three-feet, ten inches apart. This made twenty-seven hundred and fifty
hills to the acre, and with the hand-planter--an ingenious but cheap
machine--he dropped two and three kernels to the hill.

This upland, save where he had spread coarse stable manure, was
not rich. Upon each corn-hill he had Sister throw half a handful of
fertilizer. She followed him as he used the planter, and they planted
and fertilized the entire four acres in less than two days.

The lime he had put into the land would release such fertility as
remained dormant there; but Hiram did not expect a big crop of corn on
that piece. If he made two good ears to the hill he would be satisfied.

He had knocked together a rough cold-frame, on the sunny side of the
woodshed, to fit some old sash he had found in the barn. Into the rich
earth sifted to make the bed in this frame, he transplanted tomato,
egg-plant, pepper and other plants of a delicate nature. Early cabbage
and cauliflower had already gone into the garden plot, and in the midst
of an early and saturating rain, all day long, he had transplanted
table-beets into the rows he had marked out for them.

This variety of vegetables were now all growing finely. He sold nearly
six dollars' worth of radishes in town, and these radishes he showed
Mrs. Atterson were really "clear profit." They had all been pulled from
the rows of carrots and other small seeds.

There were several heavy rains after the tempest which had been so
Providential; the ground was well saturated, and the river had risen
until it roared between its banks in a voice that could be heard, on a
still day, at the house.

The rains started the vegetation growing by leaps and bounds; weeds
always increase faster than any other growing thing.

There was plenty for Hiram to do in the garden, and he kept Sister and
Old Lem Camp busy, too. They were at it from the first faint streak of
light in the morning until dark.

But they were well--and happy. Mother Atterson, her heart troubled by
thought of "that Pepper-man," could not always repress her smiles. If
the danger of losing the farm were past, she would have had nothing in
the world to trouble her.

The hundred eggs she had purchased for five dollars had proven more than
sixty per cent fertile. Some advice that Hiram had given her enabled
Mrs. Atterson to handle the chickens so that the loss from disease was
very small.

He knocked together for her a couple of pens, eight feet square, which
could be moved about on the grass every day. In these pens the seventy,
or more, chicks thrived immensely. And Sister was devoted to them.

Meanwhile the old white-faced cow, that had been a terror to Mother
Atterson at the start, had found her calf, and it was a heifer.

"Take my advice and raise it," said Hiram. "She is a scrub, but she is a
pretty good scrub. You'll see that she will give a good measure of milk.
And what this farm needs is cattle.

"If you could make stable manure enough to cover the cleared acres a
foot deep, you could raise almost any crop you might name--and
make money by it. The land is impoverished by the use of commercial
fertilizers, unbalanced by humus."

"Well, I guess You know, Hiram," admitted Mrs. Atterson. "And that
calf certainly is a pretty creeter. It would be too bad to turn it into
veal."

Hiram did not intend to raise the calf expensively, however. He took it
away from its mother right at the start, and in two weeks it was eating
grass, and guzzling skimmed milk and calf-meal, while the old cow was
beginning to show her employer her value.

Mrs. Atterson bought a small churn and quickly learned that "slight" at
butter-making which is absolutely essential if one would succeed in the
dairy business.

The cow turned out to pasture early in May, too; so her keep was not
so heavy a burden. She lowed some after the calf; but the latter was
growing finely under Hiram's care, and Mrs. Atterson had at least two
pounds of butter for sale each week, and the housekeeper at the St.
Beris school paid her thirty-five cents a pound for it.

Hiram gradually picked up a retail route in the town, which customers
paid more for the surplus vegetables--and butter--than could be obtained
at the stores. He had taught Sister how to drive, and sometimes even
Mrs. Atterson went in with the vegetables.

This relieved the young farmer and allowed him to work in the fields.
And during these warm, growing May days, he found plenty to do. Just as
the field corn pushed through the ground he went into the lot with his
14-tooth harrow and broke up the crust and so killed the ever-springing
weeds.

With the spikes on the harrow "set back," no corn-plants were dragged
out of the ground. This first harrowing, too, mixed the fertilizer with
the soil, and gave the corn the start it so sadly needed.

Busy as bees, the four transplanted people at the Atterson farmhouse
accomplished a great deal during these first weeks of the warming
season. And all four of them--Mrs. Atterson, Sister, Old Lem, and Hiram
himself--enjoyed the work to the full.



CHAPTER XXIII. TOMATOES AND TROUBLE

Hiram Strong had decided that the market prospects of Scoville
prophesied a good price for early tomatoes. He advised, therefore, a
good sized patch of this vegetable.

He had planted in the window boxes seed of several different varieties.
He had transplanted to the coldframe strong plants numbering nearly five
hundred. He believed that, under garden cultivation, a tomato plant that
would not yield fifty cents worth of fruit was not worth bothering
with, while a dollar from a single plant was not beyond the bounds of
probability.

It was safe, Hiram very well knew, to set out tomato plants in this
locality much before the middle of May; yet he was willing to take some
risks, and go to some trouble, for the sake of getting early ripened
tomatoes into the Scoville market.

As Henry Pollock had prophesied, Hiram did not see much of his friend
during corn-planting time. The Pollocks put nearly fifty acres in corn,
and the whole family helped in the work, including Mrs. Pollock herself,
and down to the child next to the baby. This little toddler amused his
younger brother, and brought water to the field for the workers.

Other families in the neighborhood did the same, Hiram noticed. They all
strained every effort to put in corn, cultivating as big a crop as they
possibly could handle.

This was why locally grown vegetables were scarce in Scoville. And the
young farmer proposed to take advantage of this condition of affairs to
the best of his ability.

If they were only to remain here on the farm long enough to handle this
one crop, Hiram determined to make that crop pay his employer as well as
possible, although he, himself, had no share in such profit.

Henry Pollock, however, came along while Hiram was making ready his plat
in the garden for tomatoes. The young farmer was setting several rows of
two-inch thick stakes across the garden, sixteen feet apart in the row,
the rows four feet apart. The stakes themselves were about four feet out
of the ground.

"What ye doin' there, Hiram?" asked Henry, curiously. "Building a
fence?"

"Not exactly."

"Ain't goin' to have a chicken run out here in the garden, be ye?"

"I should hope not! The chickens on this place will never mix with the
garden trucks, if I have any say about it," declared Hiram, laughing.

"By Jo!" exclaimed Henry. "Dad says Maw's dratted hens eat up a couple
hundred dollars' worth of corn and clover every year for him-runnin'
loose as they do."

"Why doesn't he build your mother proper runs, then, plant green stuff
in several yards, and change the flock over, from yard to yard?" "Oh,
hens won't do well shut up; Maw says so," said Henry, repeating the
lazy farmer's unfounded declaration-probably originated ages ago, when
poultry was first domesticated.

"I'll show you, next year, if we are around here," said Hiram, "whether
poultry will do well enclosed in yards."

"I told mother you didn't let your chickens run free, and had no hens
with them," said Henry, thoughtfully.

"No. I do not believe in letting anything on a farm get into lazy
habits. A hen is primarily intended to lay eggs. I send them back to
work when they have hatched out their brood.

"Those home-made brooders of ours keep the chicks quite as warm, and
never peck the little fellows, or step upon them, as the old hen often
does."

"That's right, I allow," admitted Henry, grinning broadly.

"And some hens will traipse chicks through the grass and weeds as far
as turkeys. No, sir! Send the hens back to business, and let the chicks
shift for themselves. They'll do better."

"Them there in the pens certainly do look healthy," said his friend.
"But you ain't said what you was doin' here, Hiram, setting these
stakes?"

"Why, I'll tell you," returned Hiram. "This is my tomato patch."

"By Jo!" ejaculated Henry. "You don't want to set tomatoes so fur apart,
do you?"

"No, no," laughed Hiram. "The posts are to string wires on. The tomatoes
will be two feet apart in the row. As they grow I tie them to the wires,
and so keep the fruit off the ground.

"The tomato ripens better and more evenly, and the fruit will come
earlier, especially if I pinch back the ends of the vine from time to
time, and remove some of the side branches."

"We don't do all that to raise a tomato crop. And we'll put in five
acres for the cannery this year, as usual," said Henry, with some scorn.

"We run the rows out four feet apart, like you do, throwing up a list,
in fact. Then father goes ahead with a stick, making a hole for the
plant every three feet, so't they'll be check-rowed and we can cultivate
them both ways--and we all set the plants.

"We never hand-hoe 'em--it don't pay. The cannery isn't giving but
fifteen cents a basket this year--and it's got to be a full five-eighths
basket, too, for they weigh 'em."

Hiram looked at him with a quizzical smile.

"So you set about thirty-six hundred and forty plants to the acre?" he
said.

"I reckon so."

"And you'll have five acres of tomatoes?"

"Yep. So Dad says. He has contracted for that many. But our plants
don't begin to be big enough to set out yet. We have to keep 'em covered
nights."

"And I expect to have about five hundred plants in this patch," said
Hiram, smiling. "I tell you what, Henry."

"Huh?" said the other boy. "I bet I take in from my patch--net income, I
mean--this year as much as your father gets at the cannery for his whole
crop."

"Nonsense!" cried Henry. "Maybe Dad'll make a hundred, or a hundred and
twenty-five dollars. Sometimes tomatoes run as high as thirty dollars an
acre around here."

"Wait and see," said Hiram, laughing. "It is going to cost me more to
raise my crop, and market it, that's true. But if your father doesn't do
better with his five acres than you say, I'll beat him."

"You can't do it, Hiram," cried Henry. "I can try, anyway," said Hiram,
more quietly, but with confidence. "We'll see."

"And say," Henry added, suddenly, "I was going to tell you something.
You won't raise these tomatoes--nor no other crop--if Pete Dickerson can
stop ye."

"What's the matter with Pete now?" asked Hiram, troubled by thought of
the secret enemy who had already struck at him in the dark.

"He was blowing about what he'd do to you down at the crossroads last
evening," said Henry. "He and his father both hate you like poison, I
expect.

"And the fellers down to Cale Schell's are always stirrin' up trouble.
They think it is sport. Why, Pete got so mad last night he could ha'
chewed tacks!"

"I have said nothing about Pete to anybody," said Hiram, firmly.

"That don't matter. They say you have. They tell Pete a whole lot of
stuff just to see him git riled.

"And last night he slopped over. He said if you reported around that he
put fire to Mis' Atterson's woods, he'd put it to the house and barns!
Oh, he was wild."

Hiram's face flushed, and then paled.

"Did Pete try to bum the woods, Hiram?" queried Henry, shrewdly.

"I never even said I thought so to you, have I?" asked the young farmer,
sternly.

"Nope. I only heard that fire got into the woods by accident, when I
was in town. Somebody was hunting through there for coon, and saw the
burned-over place. That's all the fellers at Cale's place knew, too, I
reckon; but they jest put it up to Pete to mad him."

"And they succeeded, did they?" said Hiram, sternly.

"I reckon."

"Loose-mouthed people make more trouble in a community than downright
mean ones," declared Hiram. "If I have any serious trouble with the
Dickersons, like enough it will be because of the interference of the
other neighbors."

"But," said Henry, preparing to go on, "Pete wouldn't dare fire your
stable now--after sayin' he'd do it. He ain't quite so big a fool as all
that."

But Hiram was not so sure. He had this additional trouble on his mind
from this very hour, though he never said a word to Mrs. Atterson about
it.

But every night before he went to bed be made around of the outbuildings
to make sure that everything was right before he slept.



CHAPTER XXIV. "CORN THAT'S CORN"

Hiram caught sight of Pepper in town one day and went after him. He knew
the real estate man had returned from his business trip, and the fact
that the matter of the option was hanging fire, and troubling Mrs.
Atterson exceedingly, urged Hiram go counter to Mr. Strickland's advice.

The lawyer had said: "Let sleeping dogs lie." Pepper had made no move,
however, and the uncertainty was very trying both for the young farmer
and his employer.

"How about that option you talked about, Mr. Pepper?" asked the "youth.
Are you going to exercise it?"

"I've got time enough, ain't I?" returned the real estate man, eyeing
Hiram in his very slyest way.

"I expect you have--if it really runs a year."

"You seen it, didn't you?" demanded Pepper.

"But we'd like Mr. Strickland to see it."

"He's goin' to act for Mrs. Atterson?" queried the man, with a scowl.

"Oh, yes."

"Well, he'll see it-when I'm ready to take it up. Don't you fret,"
retorted Pepper, and turned away.

This did not encourage the young farmer, nor was there anything in the
man's manner to yield hope to Mrs. Atterson that she could feel secure
in her title to the farm. So Hiram said nothing to her about meeting the
man.

But the youth was very much puzzled. It really did seem as though Pepper
was afraid to show that paper to Mr. Strickland.

"There's something queer about it, I believe," declared the youth to
himself. "Somewhere there is a trick. He's afraid of being tripped up on
it. But, why does he wait, if he knows the railroad is going to demand a
strip of the farm and he can get a good price for it?

"Perhaps he is waiting to make sure that the railroad will condemn a
piece of Mrs. Atterson's farm. If the board should change the route
again, Pepper would have a farm on his hands that he might not be able
to sell immediately at a profit.

"For we must confess, that sixteen hundred dollars, as farms have sold
in the past around here, is a good price for the Atterson place. That's
why Uncle Jeptha was willing to give an option for a month--if that was,
in the beginning, the understanding the old man had of his agreement
with Pepper.

"However, we might as well go ahead with the work, and take what comes
to us in the end. I know no other way to do," quoth Hiram, with a sigh.

For he could not be very cheerful with the prospect of making only a
single crop on the place. His profit was to have come out of the second
year's crop--and, he felt, out of that bottom land which had so charmed
him on the day he and Henry Pollock had gone over the Atterson Place.

Riches lay buried in that six acres of bottom. Hiram had read up on
onion culture, and he believed that, if he planted his seed in hot beds,
and transplanted the young onions to the rich soil in this bottom, he
could raise fully as large onions as they did in either Texas or the
Bermudas.

"Of course, they have the advantage of a longer season down there,"
thought Hiram, "and cheap labor. But maybe I can get cheap labor right
around here. The children of these farmers are used to working in the
fields. I ought to be able to get help pretty cheap.

"And when it comes to the market--why, I've got the Texas growers, at
least, skinned a little! I can reach either the Philadelphia or New York
market in a day. Yes; given the right conditions, onions ought to pay
big down there on that lowland."

But this was not the only crop possibility be turned over in his mind.
There were other vegetables that would grow luxuriantly on that bottom
land--providing, always, the flood did not come and fulfill Henry
Pollock's prophecy.

"Two feet of water on that meadow, eh?" thought Hiram. "Well, that
certainly would be bad. I wouldn't want that to happen after the ground
was plowed this year, even. It would tear up the land, and sour it, and
spoil it for a corn-crop, indeed."

So he was down a good deal to the river's edge, watching the ebb and
flow of the stream. A heavy rain would, over night, fill the river to
its very brim and the open field, even beyond the marshy spot, would be
a-slop with standing water.

"It sure wouldn't grow alfalfa," chuckled Hiram to himself one day. "For
the water rises here a good deal closer to the surface than four feet,
and alfalfa farmers declare that if the springs rise that high, there is
no use in putting in alfalfa. Why! I reckon just now the water is within
four inches of the top of the ground."

If the river remained so high, and the low ground so saturated with
water, he knew, too, that he could not get the six acres plowed in time
to put in corn this year. And it was this year's crop he must think
about first.

Even if Pepper did not exercise his option, and turn Mrs. Atterson
out of the place, a big commercial crop of onions, or any other
better-paying crop, could only be tried the second year.

Hiram had got his seed corn for the upland piece of the man who raised
the best corn in the community. He had tried the fertility of each ear,
discarded those which proved weakly, or infertile, and his stand of corn
for the four acres, which was now half hand high, was the best of any
farmer between the Atterson place and town.

But this corn was a hundred-and-ten-day variety. The farmer he got it of
told him that he had raised a crop from a piece planted the day before
the Fourth of July; but it was safer to get it in at least by June
fifteenth.

And here it was past June first, and the meadow land had not yet been
plowed.

"However," Hiram said to Henry, when they walked down to the riverside
on Sunday afternoon, "I'm going ahead on Faith--just as the minister
said in church this morning. If Faith can move mountains, we'll give it
a chance to move something right down here."

"I dunno, Hiram," returned the other boy, shaking his head. "Father says
he'll git in here for you with three head and a Number 3 plow by the
middle of this week if you say so--'nless it rains again, of course. But
he's afeared you're goin' to waste Mrs. Atterson's money for her."

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," quoted Hiram, grimly. "If a farmer
didn't take chances every year, the whole world would starve to death!"

"Well," returned Henry, smiling too, "let the other fellow take the
chances--that's dad's motter."

"Yes. And the 'chancey' fellow skims the cream of things every time.
No, sir!" declared the young fellow, "I'm going to be among the
cream-skimmers, or I won't be a farmer at all."

So the plow was put into the bottom-land Wednesday--and put in deep. By
Friday night the whole piece was plowed and partly harrowed.

Hiram had drawn lime for this bottom-land, proposing to use beside only
a small amount of fertilizer. He spread this lime from his one-horse
wagon, while Henry drag-harrowed behind him, and by Saturday noon the
job was done.

The horses had not mired at all, much to Mr. Pollock's surprise. And the
plow had bit deep. All the heavy sod of the piece was covered well, and
the seed bed was fairly level--for corn.

Although the Pollocks did not work on Saturday afternoon, Hiram did
not feel as though he could stop at this time. Most of the farmers had
already planted their last piece of corn. Monday would be the fifteenth
of the month.

So the young farmer got his home-made corn-row marker down to the
river-bottom and began marking the piece that afternoon.

This marker ran out three rows at each trip across the field, and with
a white stake at either end, the youth managed to run his rows very
straight. He had a good eye.

In this case he did not check-row his field. The land was
rich--phenomenally rich, he believed. If he was going to have a crop of
corn here, he wanted a crop worth while.

On the uplands the farmers were satisfied with from thirty to fifty
baskets of ear-corn to the acre. If this lowland was what he believed it
was, Hiram was sure it would make twice that.

And at that his corn crop here would only average twenty-five dollars to
the acre--not a phenomenal profit for Mrs. Atterson in that.

But the land would be getting into shape for a better crop, and although
corn is a crop that will soon impoverish ground, if planted year after
year on the same piece, Hiram knew that the humus in this soil on the
lowland was almost inexhaustible.

So he marked his rows the long way of the field--running with the river.

One of the implements left by Uncle Jeptha had been a one-horse
corn-planter with a fertilizer attachment. Hiram used this, dropping
two or three grains twenty-four inches apart, and setting the fertilizer
attachment to one hundred and fifty pounds to the acre.

He was until the next Wednesday night planting the piece. Meanwhile it
had not rained, and the river continued to recede. It was now almost
as low as it had been the day Lettie Bronson's boating party had been
"wrecked" under the big sycamore.

Hiram had not seen the Bronsons for some weeks, but about the time he
got his late corn planted, Mr. Bronson drove into the Atterson yard, and
found Hiram cultivating his first corn with the five-tooth cultivator.

"Well, well, Hiram!" exclaimed the Westerner, looking with a broad smile
over the field. "That's as pretty a field of corn as I ever saw. I don't
believe there is a hill missing."

"Only a few on the far edge, where the moles have been at work."

"Moles don't eat corn, Hiram."

"So they say," returned the young farmer, quietly. "I never could make
up my mind about it.

"I'm sure, however, that if they are only after slugs and worms which
are drawn to the corn hills by the commercial fertilizer, the moles do
fully as much damage as the slugs would.

"You see, they make a cavity under the corn hill, and the roots of the
plant wither. Excuse me, but I'd rather have Mr. Mole in somebody else's
garden."

Mr. Bronson laughed. "Well, what the little gray fellows eat won't kill
us. But they do spoil otherwise handsome rows. How did you get such a
good stand of corn, Hiram?"

"I tested the seed in a seed box early in the spring. I wouldn't plant
corn any other way. Aside from the hills the moles have spoiled, and a
few an old crow pulled up, I've got no re-planting to do.

"And replanted hills are always behind the crop, and seldom make
anything but fodder. If it wasn't for the look of the field, I'd never
re-plant a hill of corn.

"Of course, I've got to thin this--two grains in the hill is enough on
this land."

Mr. Bronson looked at him with growing surprise.

"Why, my boy, you talk just as though you had tilled the ground for a
score of years. Who taught you so much about farming?"

"One of the best farmers who ever lived," said Hiram, with a smile. "My
father. And he taught me to go to the correct sources for information,
too."

"I believe you!" exclaimed Mr. Bronson. "And you're going to have 'corn
that's corn', as we say in my part of the country, on this piece of
land."

"Wait!" said Hiram, smiling and shaking his head.

"Wait for what?"

"Wait till you see the corn on my bottom-land--if the river down there
doesn't drown it out. If we don't have too much rain, I'm going to have
corn on that river-bottom that will beat anything in this county, Mr.
Bronson."

And the young farmer spoke with assurance.



CHAPTER XXV. THE BARBECUE

On the seventeenth day of June Hiram had "grappled out" a mess of
potatoes for their dinner. They were larger than hen's eggs and came
upon the table mealy and white.

Potatoes were selling at retail in Scoville for two dollars the bushel.
Before the end of that week--after the lowland corn was planted--Hiram
dug two rows of potatoes, sorted them, and carted them to town, together
with some bunched beets, a few bunches of young carrots, radishes and
salad.

The potatoes he sold for fifty cents the five-eighth basket, from house
to house, and he brought back, for his load of vegetables, ten dollars
and twenty cents, which he handed to Mrs. Atterson, much to that lady's
joy.

"My soul and body, Hiram!" she exclaimed. "This is just a God-send--no
less. Do you know that we've sold nigh twenty-five dollars' worth of
stuff already this spring, besides that pair of pigs I let Pollock have,
and the butter to St. Beris?"

"And it's only a beginning," Hiram told her. "Wait til' the peas come
along--we'll have a mess for the table in a few days now. And the sweet
corn and tomatoes.

"If you and Sister can do the selling, it will help out a whole lot, of
course. I wish we had another horse."

"Or an automobile," said Sister, clapping her hands. "Wouldn't it be
fine to run into town in an auto, with a lot of vegetables? Then Hiram
could keep right at work with the horse and not have to stop to harness
up for us."

"Shucks, child!" admonished Mrs. Atterson. "What big idees you do get in
that noddle o' yourn."

The girls' boarding school and the two hotels proved good customers for
Hiram's early vegetables; for nobody around Scoville had potatoes
at this time, and Hiram's early peas were two weeks ahead of other
people's.

Having got a certain number of towns folks to expect him at least thrice
a week, when other farmers had green stuff for sale they could not
easily "cut out" Hiram later in the season.

And not always did the young farmer have to leave his work at home to
deliver the vegetables and Mrs. Atterson's butter. Sister, or the old
lady herself, could go to town if the load was not too heavy.

Of course, it cost considerable to live. And hogfood and grain for the
horse and cow had to be bought. Hiram was fattening four of the spring
shoats against winter. Two they could sell and two kill for their own
use.

"Goin' to be big doin's on the Fourth this year, Hiram," said Henry
Pollock, meeting the young farmer on the road from town one day. "Heard
about it?"

"In Scoville, do you mean? They're going to have a 'Safe and Sane'
Fourth, the Banner says."

"Nope. We don't think much of goin' to town Fourth of July. And this
year there's goin' to be a big picnic in Langdon's Grove--that's up the
river, you know."

"A public picnic?"

"Sure. A barbecue, we call it," said Henry. "We have one at the Grove
ev'ry year. This time the two Sunday Schools is goin' to join and have a
big time. You and Sister don't want to miss it. That Mr. Bronson's goin'
to give a whole side o' beef, they tell me, to roast over the fires."

"A big banquet is in prospect, is it?" asked Hiram, smiling.

"And a stew! Gee! you never eat one o' these barbecue stews, did ye?
Some of us will go huntin' the day before, and there'll be birds, and
squirrels, as well as chickens in that stew--and lima beans, and corn,
and everything good you can think of!" and Henry smacked his lips in
prospect.

Then he added, bethinking himself of his errand:

"Everybody chips in and gives the things to eat. What'll you give,
Hiram?"

"Some vegetables," said Hiram, quickly. "Mrs. Atterson won't object, I
guess. Do they want tomatoes for their stew?"

"Won't be no tomatoes ripe, Hiram," said Henry, decidedly.

"There won't, eh? You come out and take a look at mine," said Hiram,
laughing.

Of all the rows of vegetables in Hiram's garden plot, the thriftiest
and handsomest were the trellised tomato plants. It took nearly half of
Sister's time to keep the plants tied up and pinched back, as Hiram had
taught her.

But the stalks were already heavily laden with fruit; and those hanging
lowest on the sturdy vines were already blushing.

"By Jo!" gasped Henry. "You've done it, ain't you? But the cannery won't
take 'em yet awhile--and they'll all be gone before September."

"The cannery won't get many of my tomatoes," laughed Hiram. "And these
vines properly trained and cultivated as they are, will bear fruit up to
frost. You wait and see."

"I'll have to tell dad to come and look at these. I dunno, Hiram, if you
can sell 'em at retail, but you'll git as much for 'em as dad does for
his whole crop--just as you said."

"That's what I'm aiming for," responded Hiram. "But would the ladies who
cook the barbecue stew care for tomatoes, do you think?"

"We never git tomatoes this early," said Henry. "How about potatoes? And
there ain't many folks dug any of theirn yet, but you."

So, after speaking with Mrs. Atterson, Hiram agreed to supply a barrel
of potatoes for the barbecue, and the day before the Fourth, one of the
farmers came with a wagon to pick up the supplies.

Everybody at the Atterson farm would go to the grove--that was
understood.

"If one knocks off work, the others can," declared Mother Atterson. "You
see that things is left all right for the critters, Hiram, and we'll
tend to things indoors so that we can be gone till night."

"And do, Hiram, look out for my poults the last thing," cried Sister.

Mrs. Larriper had given Sister a setting of ten turkey eggs and every
one of them had hatched under one of Mrs. Atterson's motherly old hens.
At first the girl had kept the young turkeys and their foster mother
right near the house, so that she could watch them carefully.

But poults are rangy, and these being particularly strong and thrifty,
they soon ran the old hen pretty nearly to death.

So Hiram had built a coop into which they could go at night, safe from
any vermin, and set it far down in the east lot, near the woods. Sister
usually went down with a little grain twice a day to call them up, and
keep them tame.

"But when they get big enough to roost in the fall, I expect we'll have
to gather that crop with a gun," Hiram told her, laughing.

Many of the farmers teams were strung out along the road long before
Hiram was ready to set out. He had made sure that the spring wagon was
in good shape, and he had built an extra seat for it, so that the four
rode very comfortably.

Like every other Fourth of July, the sun was broiling hot! And the dust
rose in clouds as the faster teams passed their slow old nag.

Mrs. Atterson sat up very primly in her best silk, holding a parasol and
wearing a pair of lace mits that had appeared on state occasions for the
past twenty years, at least.

Sister was growing like a weed, and it was hard to keep her skirts and
sleeves at a proper length. But she was an entirely different looking
girl from the boarding house slavey whom Hiram remembered so keenly back
in Crawberry.

As for Old Lem Camp, he was as cheerful as Hiram had ever seen him, and
showed a deal of interest in everything about the farm, and had proved
himself, as Mrs. Atterson had prophesied, a great help.

Scarcely a house along the road was not shut up and the dooryard
deserted--for everybody was going to the barbecue. All but the Dickerson
family. Sam was at work in the fields, and the haggard Mrs. Dickerson
looked dumbly from her porch, with a crying baby in her scrawny arms as
the Attersons and Hiram passed.

But Pete was at the barbecue. He was there when Hiram arrived, and he
was making himself quite as prominent as anybody.

Indeed, he made himself so obnoxious finally, that one of the rough men
who was keeping up the fires threatened to chuck Pete into the biggest
one, and then cool him off in the river.

Otherwise, however, the barbecue passed off very pleasantly. The men who
governed it saw that no liquor was brought along, and the unruly element
to which Pete belonged was kept under with an iron hand.

There was so little "fun", of a kind, in Pete's estimation that, after
the big event of the day--the banquet--he and some of his friends
disappeared. And the picnicking ground was a much quieter and pleasanter
place after their departure.

The newcomers into the community made many friends and acquaintances
that day. Sister was going to school in the fall, and she found many
girls of her age whom she would meet there.

Mrs. Atterson met the older ladies, and was invited to join no less than
two "Ladies' Aids", and, as she said, "if she called on all the
folks she'd agreed to visit, she'd be goin' ev'ry day from then till
Christmas!"

As for Hiram, the men and older boys were rather inclined to jolly him
a bit. Not many of them had been upon the Atterson place to see what
he had done, but they had heard some stories of his proposed crops that
amused them.

When Mr. Bronson, however, whom the local men knew to be a big farmer in
the Middle West, and who owned many farms out there now, spoke favorably
of Hiram's work, the local men listened respectfully.

"The boy's got it in him to do something," the Westerner said, in his
hearty fashion. "You're eating his potatoes now, I understand. Which one
of you can dig early potatoes like those?

"And he's got the best stand of corn in the county."

"On that river-bottom, you mean?" asked one.

"And on the upland, too. You fellows want to look about you a little.
Most of you don't see beyond the end of your noses. You watch out,
or Hiram Strong is going to beat every last one of you this year--and
that's a run-down farm he's got, at that."



CHAPTER XXVI. SISTER'S TURKEYS

But Lettie was not at the barbecue, and to tell the truth, Hiram Strong
was disappointed.

Despite the fact that she had seemed inclined to snub him, the young
farmer was vastly taken with the pretty girl. He had seen nobody about
Scoville as attractive as Lettie--nor anywhere else, for that matter!

He was too proud to call at the Bronson place, although Mr. Bronson
invited him whenever he saw Hiram. And at first, Lettie had asked him to
come, too.

But the Western girl did not like being thwarted in any matter--even the
smallest. And when Hiram would not come to take Pete Dickerson's place,
the very much indulged girl had showed the young farmer that she was
offended.

However, the afternoon at Langdon's Grove passed very pleasantly, and
Hiram and his party did not arrive at the farm again until dusk had
fallen.

"I'll go down and shut your turkeys up for the night, Sister," Hiram
said, after he had done the other chores for he knew the girl would be
afraid to go so far from the house by lantern-light.

And when he reached the turkey coop, 'way down in the field, Hiram was
very glad indeed that he had come instead of the girl.

For the coop was empty. There wasn't a turkey inside, or thereabout. It
had been dark an hour and more, then, and the poults should long since
have been hovered in the coop.

Had some marauding fox, or other "varmint", run the young turkeys off
their reservation? That seemed improbable at this time of year--and so
early in the evening. Foxes do not usually go hunting before midnight,
nor do other predatory animals.

Hiram had brought the barn lantern with him, and he took a look around
the neighborhood of the empty coop.

"My goodness!" he mused, "Sister will cry her eyes out if anything's
happened to those little turks. Now, what's this?"

The ground was cut up at a little distance from the coop. He examined
the tracks closely.

They were fresh--very fresh indeed. The wheel tracks of a light wagon
showed, and the prints of a horse's shod hoofs.

The wagon had been driven down from the main road, and had turned
sharply here by the coop. Hiram knew, too, that it had stood there for
some time, for the horse had moved uneasily.

Of course, that proved the driver had gotten out of the wagon and left
the horse alone. Doubtless there was but one thief--for it was
positive that the turkeys had been removed by a two-footed--not a
four-footed--marauder.

"And who would be mean enough to steal Sister's turkeys? Almost
everybody in the neighborhood has a few to fatten for Thanksgiving and
Christmas. Who--did--this?"

He followed the wheel marks of the wagon to the road. He saw the track
where it turned into the field, and where it turned out again. And
it showed plainly that the thief came from town, and returned in that
direction.

Of course, in the roadway it was impossible to trace the particular
tracks made by the thief's horse and wagon. Too many other vehicles had
been over the road within the past hour.

The thief must have driven into the field just after night-fall, plucked
the ten young turkeys, one by one, out of the coop, tying their feet
and flinging them into the bottom of his wagon. Covered with a bag, the
frightened turkeys would never utter a peep while it remained dark.

"I hate to tell Sister--I can't tell her," Hiram said, as he went slowly
back to the house. For Sister had been "counting chickens" again, and
she had figured that, at eighteen cents per pound, live weight, the ten
turkeys would pay for all the clothes she would need that winter, and
give her "Christmas money", too.

The young farmer shrank from meeting the girl again that night, and he
delayed going into the house as long as possible. Then he found they had
all retired, leaving him a cold supper at the end of the kitchen table.

The disappearance of the turkeys kept Hiram tossing, wakeful, upon his
bed for some hours. He could not fail to connect this robbery with the
other things that had been done, during the past weeks, to injure those
living at the Atterson farm.

Was the secret enemy really Peter Dickerson? And had Pete committed this
crime now?

Yet the horse and wagon had come from the direction opposite the
Dickerson farm, and had returned as it came.

"I don't know whether I am accusing that fellow wrongfully, or not,"
muttered Hiram, at last. "But I am going to find out. Sister isn't going
to lose her turkeys without my doing everything in my power to get them
back and punish the thief."

He usually arose in the morning before anybody else was astir, so it
was easy for Hiram to slip out of the house and down to the field to the
empty turkey coop.

The marks of horse and wagon were quite as plain in the faint light of
dawn as they had been the night before. In the darkness the thief
had driven his wagon over some small stumps, amid which his horse had
scrambled in some difficulty, it was plain.

Hiram, tracing out these marks as a Red Indian follows a trail,
saw something upon the edge of one of the half-decayed stumps that
interested him greatly.

He stood up the next moment with this clue in his hand--a white, coarse
hair, perhaps four inches in length.

"That was scraped off the horse's fetlock as he scrambled over this
stump," muttered Hiram. "Now, who drives a white horse, or a horse with
white feet, in this neighborhood?

"Can I narrow the search down in this way, I wonder?" and for some
moments the youth stood there, in the growing light of early morning,
canvassing the subject from that angle.



CHAPTER XXVII. RUN TO EARTH

A broad streak of crimson along the eastern horizon, over the treetops,
announced the coming of the sun when Hiram Strong reached the automobile
road to which he, on the previous night, had traced the thief that had
stolen Sister's poults.

Now he looked at the track again. It surely had come from the direction
of Scoville, and it turned back that way.

Yet he looked at the white horse-hair scraped off upon the stump, and
he turned his back upon these signs and strode along the road toward his
own home.

Smoke was just curling from the Atterson chimney; Sister, or Mrs.
Atterson, was just building the fire. But they did not see Hiram as he
went by.

Hiram's quest led him past the place and to the Dickerson farm. There
nobody was yet astir, save the mules and horses in the barnyard, who
called as he went by, hoping for their breakfast.

Hiram knew that the Dickersons had turkeys and, like most of the other
farmers, cooped them in distant fields away from the house. He found
three coops in the middle of an old oat-field tinder a spreading beech.

The old turks roosted upon the limbs of the beech at night; they were
already up and away, hunting grasshoppers for breakfast. But quite a few
poults were running and peeping about the coops, with two hen turkeys
playing guard to them.

Hiram saw where a wagon had been driven in here, and turned, too. The
tracks were made recently. And one of the coops was shut tight, although
he knew by the rustling within that there were young turkeys in it.

It was too dark within the hutch, however, for the youth to number the
poults confined there.

He strolled back across the fields to the rear of the Dickerson house.
Passing the barnyard first, he halted and examined the bright bay horse,
with white feet--the one that Pete had driven to the barbecue the day
before--the only one Pete was ever allowed to drive off the farm.

The Dickersons, father and son, were not as early risers as most farmers
in those parts. At least, they were not up betimes on this morning.

But Mrs. Dickerson had built the fire now and was stirring about the
porch when Hiram arrived at the step, filling her kettle at the pump.

"Mornin', Mr. Strong," she said, in her startled way, eyeing Hiram
askance.

She was a lean, sharp-featured woman, with a hopeless droop to her
shoulders.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Dickerson," said Hiram, gravely. "How many young
turkeys have you this year?"

The woman shrank back and almost dropped the kettle she had filled to
the pump-bench. Her eyes glared.

Somewhere in the house a baby squatted; then a door banged and Hiram
heard Dickerson's heavy step descending the stair.

"You have a coop of poults down there, Mrs. Dickerson," continued Hiram,
confidently, "that I know belongs to us. I traced Pete's tracks with the
wagon and the white-footed horse. Now, this is going to make trouble for
Pete----"

"What's the matter with Pete, now?" demanded Dickerson's harsh voice,
and he came out upon the porch.

He scowled at sight of Hiram, and continued:

"What are you roaming around here for, Strong? Can't you keep on your
own side of the fence?"

"It's little I'll ever trouble you, Mr. Dickerson," said Hiram,
"sharply, if you and yours don't trouble me, I can assure you."

"What's eating you now?" demanded the man, roughly.

"Why, I'll tell you, Mr. Dickerson," said Hiram, quickly. "Somebody's
stolen our turkeys--ten of them. And I have found them down there where
your turkeys roost. The natural inference is that somebody here knows
about it----"

Dickerson--just out of his bed and as ugly as many people are when they
first get up--leaped for the young farmer from the porch, and had him in
his grip before Hiram could help himself.

The woman screamed. There was a racket in the house, for some of the
children had been watching from the window.

"Dad's goin' to lick him!" squalled one of the girls.

"You come here and intermate that any of my family's thieves, do you?"
the angry man roared.

"Stop that, Sam Dickerson!" cried his wife. She suddenly gained courage
and ran to the struggling pair, and tried to haul Sam away from Hiram.

"The boy's right," she gasped. "I heard Pete tellin' little Sam last
night what he'd done. It's come to a pretty pass, so it has, if you are
goin' to uphold that bad boy in thieving----"

"Hush up, Maw!" cried Pete's voice from the house.

"Come out here, you scalawag!" ordered his father, relaxing his hold on
Hiram.

Pete slouched out on the porch, wearing a grin that was half sheepish,
half worried.

"What's this Strong says about turkeys?" demanded Sam Dickerson,
sternly.

"'Tain't so!" declared Pete. "I ain't seen no turkeys."

"I have found them," said Hiram, quietly. "And the coopful is down
yonder in your lot. You thought to fool me by turning into our farm from
the direction of Scoville, and driving back that way; but you turned
around in the road under that overhanging oak, where I picked Lettie
Bronson off the back of the runaway horse last Spring.

"Now, those ten turkeys belong to Sister. She'll be heart-broken if
anything happens to them. You have played me several mean tricks since I
have been here, Pete Dickerson----"

"No, I ain't!" interrupted the boy.

"Who took the burr off the end of my axle and let me down in the road
that night?" demanded Hiram, his rage rising.

Pete could not forbear a grin at this remembrance.

"And who tampered with our pump the next morning? And who watched and
waited till we left the lower meadow that night we burned the rubbish,
and then set fire to our woods----"

Mrs. Dickerson screamed again. "I knew that fire never come by
accident," she moaned.

"You shut up, Maw!" admonished her hopeful son again.

"And now, I've got you," declared Hiram, with confidence. "I can tell
those ten poults. I marked them for Sister long ago so that, if they
went to the neighbors, they could be easily identified.

"They're in that shut-up coop down yonder," continued Hiram, "and unless
you agree to bring them back at once, and put them in our coop, I shall
hitch up and go to town, first thing, and get out a warrant for your
arrest."

Sam had remained silent for a minute, or two. Now he said, decidedly:

"You needn't threaten no more, young feller. I can see plain enough that
Pete's been carrying his fun too far----"

"Fun!" ejaculated Hiram.

"That's what I said," growled Sam. "He'll bring the turkeys back-and
before he has his breakfast, too."

"All right," said Hiram, knowing full well that there was nothing to
be made by quarreling with Sam Dickerson. "His returning the turkeys,
however, will not keep me from speaking to the constable the very next
time Pete plays any of his tricks around our place.

"It may be 'fun' for him; but it won't look so funny from the inside of
the town jail."

He walked off after this threat. And he was sorry he had said it. For he
had no real intention of having Pete arrested, and an empty threat is of
no use to anybody.

The turkeys came back; Sister did not even know that they had been
stolen, for when she went down to feed them about the middle of the
forenoon, all ten came running to her call.

But Pete Dickerson ceased from troubling for a time, much to Hiram's
satisfaction.

Meanwhile the crops were coming on finely. Hiram's tomatoes were
bringing good prices in Scoville, and as he had such a quantity and was
so much earlier than the other farmers around about, he did, as he told
Henry he would do, "skim the cream off the market."

He bought some crates and baskets in town, too, and shipped some of
the tomatoes to a produce man he knew in Crawberry--a man whom he could
trust to treat him fairly. During the season that man's checks to Mrs.
Atterson amounted to fifty-four dollars.

Three times a week the spring wagon went to town with vegetables for the
school, the hotels, and their retail customers. The whole family worked
long hours, and worked hard; but nobody complained.

No rain fell of any consequence until the latter part of July; and then
there was no danger of the river overflowing and drowning out the corn.

And that corn! By the last of July it was waist high, growing rank and
strong, and of that black-green color which delights the farmer's eye.

Mr. Bronson walked down to the river especially to see it. Like Hiram's
upland corn, there was scarcely a hill missing, save where the muskrats
had dug in from the river bank and disturbed the corn hills.

"That's the finest-looking corn in this county, bar none, Hiram,"
declared Bronson. "I have seldom seen better looking in the rich
bottom-lands of the West. And you certainly do keep it clean, boy."

"No use in putting in a crop if you don't 'tend it," said the young
farmer, sententiously.

"And what's this along here?" asked the gentleman, pointing to a row or
two of small stuff along the inner edge of the field.

"I'm trying onions and celery down here. I want to put a commercial crop
into this field next year--if we are let stay here--that will pay Mrs.
Atterson and me a real profit," and Hiram laughed.

"What do you call a real profit?" inquired Mr. Bronson, seriously.

"Four hundred dollars an acre, net," said the young farmer, promptly.

"Why, Hiram, you can't do that!" cried the gentleman.

"It's being done--in other localities and on soil not so rich as
this--and I believe I can do it."

"With onions or celery?" "Yes, sir." "Which--or both?" asked the
Westerner, interested.

"I am trying them out here, as you see. I believe it will be celery.
This soil is naturally wet, and celery is a glutton for water. Then, it
is a late piece, and celery should be transplanted twice before it is
put in the field, I believe."

"A lot of work, boy," said Mr. Bronson, shaking his head.

"Well, I never expect to get something for nothing," remarked Hiram.

"And how about the onions?"

"Why, they don't seem to do so well. There is something lacking in the
land to make them do their best. I believe it is too cold. And, then, I
am watching the onion market, and I am afraid that too many people
have gone into the game in certain sections, and are bound to create an
over-supply."

The gentleman looked at him curiously.

"You certainly are an able-minded youngster, Hiram," he observed. "I
s'pose if you do so well here next year as you expect, a charge of
dynamite wouldn't blast you away from the Atterson farm?"

"Why, Mr. Bronson," responded the young farmer, "I don't want to run a
one-horse farm all my life. And this never can be much more. It isn't
near enough to any big city to be a real truck farm--and I'm interested
in bigger things.

"No, sir. The Atterson Eighty is only a stepping stone for me. I hope
I'll go higher before long."



CHAPTER XXVIII. HARVEST

But Hiram was not at all sure that he would ever see a celery crop in
this bottom-land. Pepper still "hung fire" and he would not go to Mr.
Strickland with his option.

"I don't hafter," he told Hiram. "When I git ready I'll let ye know, be
sure o' that."

The fact was that the railroad had made no further move. Mr. Strickland
admitted to Mrs. Atterson that if the strip along the east boundary
of the farm was condemned by the railroad, she ought to get a thousand
dollars for it.

"But if the railroad board should change its mind again," added the
lawyer, "sixteen hundred dollars would not be a speculative price to pay
for your farm--and well Pepper knows it."

"Then Mr. Damocles's sword has got to hang over us, has it?" demanded
the old lady.

"I am afraid so," admitted the lawyer, smiling.

Mrs. Atterson could not be more troubled than was Hiram himself. Youth
feels the sting of such arrows of fortune more keenly than does age. We
get "case-hardened" to trouble as the years bend our shoulders.

The thought that he might, after all, get nothing but a hundred dollars
and his board for all the work he had done in preparation for the second
year's crop sometimes embittered Hiram's thoughts.

Once, when he spoke to Pepper, and the snaky man sneered at him and
laughed, the young farmer came near attacking him then and there in the
street.

"I certainly could have given that Pepper as good a thrashing as ever he
got," muttered Hiram. "And even Pete Dickerson never deserved one more
than Pepper."

Pete fought shy of Hiram these days, and as the summer waned the young
farmer gradually became less watchful and expectant of trouble from the
direction of the west boundary of the Atterson Eighty.

But there was little breathing spell for him in the work of the farm.

"When we lay by the corn, you bet dad an' me goes fishing!" Henry
Pollock told Hiram, one day.

But it wasn't often that the young farmer could take half a day off for
any such pleasure.

"You've bit off more'n you kin chaw," observed Henry.

"That's all right; I'll keep chewing at it, just the same," returned
Hiram cheerfully.

For the truck crop was bringing them in a bigger sum of money than even
Hiram had expected. The season had been very favorable, indeed; Hiram's
vegetables had come along in good time, and even the barrels of sweet
corn he shipped to Crawberry brought a fair price--much better than he
could have got at the local cannery.

When the tomato pack came on, however, he did sell many baskets of his
"seconds" to the cannery. But the selected tomatoes he continued to ship
to Crawberry, and having established a reputation with his produce man
for handsome and evenly ripened fruit, the prices received were good all
through the season.

He saw the sum for tomatoes pass the hundred and fifty dollar mark
before frost struck the vines. Even then he was not satisfied. There was
a small cellar under the Atterson house, and when the frosty nights of
October came, Hiram dragged up the vines still bearing fruit, by the
roots, and hung them in the cellar, where the tomatoes continued to
ripen slowly nearly up to Thanksgiving.

Other crops did almost as well in proportion. He had put in no late
potatoes; but in September he harvested the balance of his early crop
and, as they were a good keeping variety, he knew there would be enough
to keep the family supplied until the next season.

Of other roots, including a patch of well-grown mangels for Mrs.
Atterson's handsome flock of chickens, there were plenty to carry the
family over the winter.

As the frosts became harder Hiram dug his root pits in the high, light
soil of the garden, drew pinetags to cover them, and, gradually, as the
winter advanced, heaped the earth over the various piles of roots to
keep them through the winter.

Meanwhile, in September, corn harvest had come on. The four acres Hiram
had planted below the stables yielded a fair crop, that part of the
land he had been able to enrich with coarse manure showing a much better
average than the remainder.

The four acres yielded them something over one hundred and sixty baskets
of sound corn which, as corn was then selling for fifty cents per
bushel, meant that the crop was worth about forty dollars.

As near as Hiram could figure it had cost about fifteen dollars to raise
the crop; therefore the profit to Mrs. Atterson was some twenty-five
dollars.

Besides the profit from some of the garden crops, this was very small
indeed; as Hiram said, it did not pay well enough to plant small patches
of corn for them to fool with it much.

"The only way to make a good profit out of corn corn a place like this,"
he said to Henry, who would not be convinced, "is to have a big drove of
hogs and turn them into the field to fatten on the standing corn."

"But that would be wasteful!" cried Henry, shocked at the suggestion.

"Big pork producers do not find it so," returned Hiram, confidently. "Or
else one wants a drove of cattle to fatten, and cuts the corn green and
shreds it, blowing it into a silo.

"The idea is to get the cost of the corn crop back through the price
paid by the butcher for your stock, or hogs."

"Nobody ever did that around here," declared young Pollock.

"And that's why nobody gets ahead very fast around here. Henry, why
don't you strike out and do something new--just to surprise 'em?

"Stop selling a little tad of this, and a little tad of that off the
farm and stick to the good farmer's rule: 'Never sell anything off the
place that can't walk off.'"

"I've heard that before," said Henry, sighing.

"And even then just so much fertility goes with every yoke of steers
or pair of fat hogs. But it is less loss, in proportion, than when the
corn, or oats, or wheat itself is sold."



CHAPTER XXIX. LETTIE BRONSON'S CORN HUSKING

Sister had begun school on the very first day it opened--in September.
She was delighted, for although she had had "lessons" at the
"institution", they had not been like this regular attendance, with
other free and happy children, at a good country school.

Sister was growing not alone in body, but in mind. And the improvement
in her appearance was something marvelous.

"It certainly does astonish me, every time I think o' that youngun
and the way she looked when she come to me from the charity school,"
declared Mother Atterson.

"Who'd want a better lookin' young'un now? She'd be the pride of any
mother's heart, she'd be.

"If there's folks belongin' to her, and they have neglected her all
these years, in my opinion they're lackin' in sense, Hiram."

"They certainly have been lacking in the milk of human kindness,"
admitted the young farmer.

"Huh! That milk's easily soured in many folks," responded Mrs.
Atterson. "But Sister's folks, whoever they be, will be sorry some day."

"You don't suppose she really has any family, do you?" demanded Hiram.

"No father nor mother, I expect. But many a family will get rid of
a young'un too small to be of any use, when they probably have many
children of their own.

"And if there was a little bait of money coming to the child, as that
lawyer told the institution matron, that would be another reason for
losing her in this great world."

"I'm afraid Sister will never find her folks, Mrs. Atterson," said
Hiram, shaking his head.

"Huh! If she don't, it's no loss to her. It's loss to them," declared
the old lady. "And I'd hate to have anybody come and take her away from
us now."

Sister no longer wore her short hair in four "pigtails". She had learned
to dress it neatly like other girls of her age, and although it would
never be like the beautiful blue-black tresses of Lettie Bronson, Hiram
had to admit that the soft brown of Sister's hair, waving so prettily
over her forehead, made the girl's features more than a little
attractive.

She was an entirely different person, too, from the one who had helped
Lettie and her friends ashore from the grounded motor-boat that day, so
long ago--and so Lettie herself thought when she rode into the Atterson
yard one October day on her bay horse, and Sister met her on the porch.

"Why, you're Mrs. Atterson's girl, aren't you?" cried Lettie, leaning
from her saddle to offer her hand to Sister. "I wouldn't have known
you."

Sister was getting plump, she had roses in her cheeks, and she wore a
neat, whole, and becoming dress.

"You're Miss Bronson," said Sister, gravely. "I wouldn't forget you."

Perhaps there was something in what Sister said that stung Lettie
Bronson's memory. She flushed a little; but then she smiled most
charmingly and asked for Hiram.

"Husking corn, Miss, with Henry Pollock, down on the bottom-land."

"Oh! way down there? Well! you tell him--Why, I'll want you to come,
too," laughed Lettie, quite at her best now.

Nobody could fail to answer Lettie Bronson's smile with its reflection,
when she chose to exert herself in that direction.

"Why, I just came to tell you both that on Friday we're going to have an
old-fashioned husking-bee for all the young folks of the neighborhood,
at our place. You must come yourself--er--Sister, and tell Hiram to
come, too.

"Seven o'clock, sharp, remember--and I'll be dreadfully disappointed if
you don't come," added Lettie, turning her horse's head homeward, and
saying it with so much cordiality that her hearer's heart warmed.

"She is pretty," mused Sister, watching the bay horse and its rider
flying along the road. "I don't blame Hiram for thinking she's the very
finest girl in these parts.

"She is," declared Sister, emphatically, and shook herself.

Hiram had finished husking the lowland corn that day, with Henry's help,
and it was all drawn in at night. When the last measured basket was
heaped in the crib by lantern light, the young farmer added up the
figures chalked up on the lintel of the door.

"For goodness' sake, Hiram! it isn't as much as that, is it?" gasped
Henry, viewing the figures the young farmer wrote proudly in his
memorandum book.

"Six acres--six hundred and eighty baskets of sound corn," crowed
"Hiram. And it's corn that is corn, as Mr. Bronson says.

"It's not quite as hard as the upland corn, for the growing season was
not quite long enough for it; but it's better than the average in the
county----"

"Three hundred and forty bushel of shelled corn from six acres?" cried
Henry. "I should say it was! It's worth fifty cents now right at the
crib--a hundred and seventy dollars. Hiram! that'll make dad let me go
to the agricultural college."

"What?" cried Hiram, surprised and pleased. "Have you really got that
idea in your head?"

"I been gnawin' on it ever since you talked so last spring," admitted
his friend, rather shyly. "I told father, and at first he pooh-poohed.

"But I kept on pointing out to him how much more you knowed than we
did--"

"That's nonsense, Henry," interrupted Hiram. "Only about some things. I
wouldn't want to set myself up over the farmers of this neighborhood as
knowing so much."

"Well, you've proved it. Dad says so himself. He was taken all aback
when I showed him how you had beat him on the tomato crop. And I been
talking to him about your corn.

"That hit father where he lived," chuckled Henry, "for father's a
corn-growing man--and always has been considered so in this county.

"He watched the way you tilled your crop, and he believed so much
shallow cultivating was wrong, and said so. But he says you beat him
on poor ground; and when I tell him what that lowland figures up, he'll
throw up his hands.

"And I'm going to take a course in fertilizers, farm management, and the
chemistry of soils," continued Henry.

"Just as you say, I believe we have been planting the wrong crops on the
right land! Anyway, I'll find out. I believe we've got a good farm, but
we're not getting out of it what we should."

"Well, Henry," admitted Hiram, slowly, "nothing's pleased me so much
since I came into this neighborhood, as to hear you say this. You get
all you can at the experiment station this winter, and I believe that
your father will soon begin to believe that there is something in 'book
farming', after all."

If it had not been for the hair-hung sword over them, Mrs. Atterson and
Hiram would have taken great delight in the generous crops that had been
vouchsafed to them.

"Still, we can't complain," said the old lady, "and for the first time
for more'n twenty years I'm going to be really thankful at Thanksgiving
time."

"Oh, I believe you!" cried Sister, who heard her. "No boarders."

"Nope," said the old lady, quietly. "You're wrong. For we're going
to have boarders on Thanksgiving Day. I've writ to Crawberry. Anybody
that's in the old house now that wants to come to eat dinner with us,
can come. I'm going to cook the best dinner I ever cooked--and make a
milkpail full of gravy."

"I know," said the good old soul, shaking her head, "that them two old
maids I sold out to have half starved them boys. We ought to be able to
stand even Fred Crackit, and Mr. Peebles, one day in the year."

"Well!" returned Sister, thoughtfully. "If you can stand 'em I can. I
never did think I could forgive 'em all--so mean they was to me--and the
hair-pulling and all.

"But I guess you're right, Mis' Atterson. It's heapin' coals of fire on
their heads, like what the minister at the chapel says."

"Good Land o' Goshen, child!" exclaimed the old lady, briskly. "Hot
coals would scotch 'em, and I only want to fill their stomachs for
once."

The husking at the Bronsons was a very well attended feast, indeed.
There was a great barn floor, and on this were heaped the ear-corn in
the husks--not too much, for Lettie proposed having the floor cleared
and swept for square dancing, and later for the supper.

She had a lot of her school friends at the husking, and at first the
neighborhood boys and girls were bashful in the company of the city
girls.

But after they got to work husking the corn, and a few red ears had been
found (for which each girl or boy had to pay a forfeit) they became a
very hilarious company indeed.

Now, Lettie, broadly hospitable, had invited the young folk far and
wide. Even those whom she had not personally seen, were expected to
attend.

So it was not surprising that Pete Dickerson should come, despite the
fact that Mr. Bronson had once discharged him from his employ--and for
serious cause.

But Pete was not a thin-skinned person. Where there was anything "doing"
he wanted to cut a figure. And his desire to be important, and be marked
by the company, began to make him objectionable before the evening was
half over.

For instance, he thought it was funny to take a run down the long barn
floor and leap over the heads of those huskers squatting about a heap
of corn, and land with his heavy boots on the apex of the pile, thus
scattering the ears in all directions.

He got long straws, too, and tickled the backs, of the girls' necks; or
he dumped handfuls of bran down their backs, or shook oats into their
hair--and the oats stuck.

Mr. Bronson could not see to everything; and Pete was very sly at his
tricks. A girl would shriek in one corner, and the lout would quickly
transport himself to a distant spot.

When the corn was swept aside, and the floor cleared for the dance, Pete
went beyond the limit, however. He had found a pail of soft-soap in the
shed and while the crowd was out of the barn, playing a "round game"
in the yard while it was being swept, Pete slunk in with the soap and a
swab, and managed to spread a good deal of the slippery stuff around on
the boards.

A broom would not remove this soft-soap. When the hostler swept, he
only spread it. And when the dancing began many a couple measured their
length on the planks, to Pete's great delight.

But the hired man had observed Pete sneaking about while he was removing
the last of the corn, and Hiram Strong discovered soft-soap on Pete's
clothes, and the smell of it strong upon his unwashed hands.

"You get out of here," Mr. Bronson told the boy. "I had occasion to put
you off my land once, and don't let me have to do it a third time,"
and he shoved him with no gentle hand through the door and down the
driveway.

But Pete laid it all to Hiram. He called back over his shoulder:


"I'll be square with you, yet, Hi Strong! You wait!"

But Hiram bad been threatened so often from that quarter by now, that he
was not much interested.



CHAPTER XXX. ONE SNOWY MIDNIGHT

The fun went on after that with more moderation, and everybody had a
pleasant time. That is, so supposed Hiram Strong until, in going out of
the barn again to get a breath of cool air after one of the dances, he
almost stumbled over a figure hiding in a corner, and crying.

"Why, Sister!" he cried, taking the girl by the shoulders, and turning
her about. "What's the matter?"

"Oh, I want to go home, Hi. This isn't any place for me. Let me--me
run--run home!" she sobbed.

"I guess not! Who's bothered you? Has that Pete Dickerson come back?"

"No!" sobbed Sister.

"What is it, then?"

"They--they don't want me here. They don't like me."

"Who don't?" demanded Hiram, sternly.

"Those--those girls from St. Beris. I--I tried to dance, and I slipped
on some of that horrid soap and--and fell down. And they said I was
clumsy. And one said:

"'Oh, all these country girls are like that. I don't see what Let wanted
them here for.'

"'So't we could all show off better,' said another, laughing some more.

"And I guess that's right enough," finished Sister. "They don't want me
here. Only to make fun of. And I wish I hadn't come."

Hiram was smitten dumb for a moment. He had danced once with Lettie, but
the other town girls had given him no opportunity to do so. And it was
plain that Lettie's school friends preferred the few boys who had come
up from town to any of the farmers' sons who had come to the husking.

"I guess you're right, Sister. They don't want us--much," admitted
Hiram, slowly.

"Then let's both go home," said Sister, sadly.

"No. That wouldn't be serving Mr. Bronson--or Lettie--right. We were
invited in good faith, I reckon, and the Bronsons haven't done anything
to offend us.

"But you and I'll go back there and dance together. You dance with
me--or with Henry; and I'll stick to the country girls. If Lettie
Bronson's friends from boarding school think they are so much better
than us folks out here in the country, let us show them that we can have
a good time without them."

"Oh, I'll go back with you, Hiram," cried Sister, gladly, and the young
fellow was a bit conscience-stricken as he noted her changed tone and
saw the sparkle that came into her eye.

Had he neglected Sister because Lettie Bronson was about? Well! perhaps
he had. But he made up for it with the attention he paid to Sister
during the remainder of the evening.

They went home early, however, and Hiram felt somewhat grave after the
corn husking. Had Lettie Bronson invited the country-bred young folk
living about her father's home, to meet her boarding school friends,
and the town boys, merely that the latter might be compared with the
farmer-folk to their disfavor?

He could not believe that--really. Lettie Bronson might be thoughtless,
and a little proud; but she was still a princess to Hiram, and he could
not think this evil of her.

But there were too many duties every day for the young farmer to give
much thought to such problems. Harvesting was not complete yet, and
soon flurries of snow began to drive across the fields and threaten the
approach of winter.

Finally the wind came out of the northwest for more than a day, and
toward evening the flakes began to fall, faster and faster, thicker and
thicker.

"It's going to be a snowy night--a real baby blizzard," declared Hiram,
stamping his feet on the porch before coming into the warm kitchen with
the milkpail.

"Oh, dear! And I thought you'd go over to Pollock's with me to-night,
Hi," said Sister.

"Mabel an' I are goin' to make our Christmas presents together, and
she's expecting me."

"Shucks! 'Twon't be fit for a girl to go out if it snows," said Mother
Atterson.

But Hiram saw that Sister was much disappointed, and he had tried to be
kinder to her since that night of the corn husking.

"What's a little snow?" he demanded, laughing. "Bundle up good, Sister,
and I'll go over with you. I want to see Henry, anyway."

"Crazy young'uns," observed Mother Atterson. But she made no real
objection. Whatever Hiram said was right, in the old lady's eyes.

They tramped through the snowy fields with a lantern, and found it
half-knee deep in some drifts before they arrived at the Pollocks, short
as had been the duration of the fall.

But they were welcomed vociferously at the neighbor's; preparations were
made for a long evening's fun; for with the snow coming down so steadily
there would be little work done out of doors the following day, so the
family need not seek their beds early.

The Pollock children had made a good store of nuts, like the squirrels;
and there was plenty of corn to pop, and molasses for candy, or
corn-balls, and red apples to roast, and sweet cider from the casks in
the cellar.

The older girls retired to a corner of the wide hearth with their
work-boxes, and Hiram and Henry worked out several problems regarding
the latter's eleven-week course at the agricultural college, which would
begin the following week; while the young ones played games until they
fell fast asleep in odd corners of the big kitchen.

It was nearly midnight, indeed, when Hiram and Sister started home. And
it was still snowing, and snowing heavily.

"We'll have to get all the plows out to-morrow morning!" Henry shouted
after them from the porch.

And it was no easy matter to wade home through the heavy drifts.

"I never could have done it without you, Hi," declared the girl, when
she finally floundered onto the Atterson porch, panting and laughing.

"I'll take a look around the barns before I come in," remarked the
careful young farmer.

This was a duty he never neglected, no matter how late he went to bed,
nor how tired he was. Half way to the barn he halted. A light was waving
wildly by the Dickerson back door.

It was a lantern, and Hiram knew that it was being whirled around and
around somebody's head. He thought he heard, too, a shouting through the
falling snow.

"Something's wrong over yonder," thought the young farmer.

He hesitated but for a moment. He had never stepped upon the Dickerson
place, nor spoken to Sam Dickerson since the trouble about the turkeys.
The lantern continued to swing. Eagerly as the snow came down, it could
not blind Hiram to the waving light.

"I've got to see about this," he muttered, and started as fast as he
could go through the drifts, across the fields.

Soon he heard the voice shouting. It was Sam Dickerson. And he evidently
had been shouting to Hiram, seeing his lantern in the distance.

"Help, Strong! Help!" he called.

"What is it, man?" demanded Hiram, climbing the last pair of bars and
struggling through the drifts in the dooryard.

"Will you take my horse and go for the doctor? I don't know where Pete
is--down to Cale Schell's, I expect."

"What's the matter, Mr. Dickerson?"

"Sarah's fell down the bark stairs--fell backward. Struck her head an'
ain't spoke since. Will you go, Mr. Strong?"

"Certainly. Which horse will I take?"

"The bay's saddled-under the shed--get any doctor--I don't care which
one. But get him here."

"I will, Mr. Dickerson. Leave it to me," promised Hiram, and ran to the
shed at once.



CHAPTER XXXI. "MR. DAMOCLES'S SWORD"

Hiram Strong was not likely to forget that long and arduous night. It
was impossible to force the horse out of a walk, for the drifts were in
some places to the creature's girth.

He stopped at the house for a minute and roused Mrs. Atterson and Old
Lem and sent them over to help the unhappy Dickersons.

He was nearly an hour getting to the crossroads store. There were lights
and revelry there. Some of the lingering crowd were snowbound for the
night and were making merry with hard cider and provisions which Schell
was not loath to sell them.

Pete was one of the number, and Hiram sent him home with the news of his
mother's serious hurt.

He forced the horse to take him into town to Dr. Broderick. It was
nearly two o'clock when he routed out the doctor, and it was four
o'clock when the physician and himself, in a heavy sleigh and behind a
pair of mules, reached the Dickerson farmhouse.

The woman had not returned to consciousness, and Mrs. Atterson remained
through the day to do what she could. But it was many a tedious week
before Mrs. Dickerson was on her feet again, and able to move about.

Meanwhile, more than one kindly act had Mother Atterson done for the
neighbors who had seemed so careless of her rights. Pete never appeared
when either Mrs. Atterson or Sister came to the house; but in his sour,
gloomy way, Sam Dickerson seemed to be grateful.

Hiram kept away, as there was nothing he could do to help them. And he
saw when Pete chanced to pass him, that the youth felt no more kindly
toward him than he had before.

"Well, let him be as ugly as he wants to be--only let him keep away from
the place and let our things alone," thought Hiram. "Goodness knows! I'm
not anxious to be counted among Pete Dickerson's particular friends."

Thanksgiving came on apace, and every one of the old boarders of
Mother Atterson had written that he would come to the farm to spend the
holiday. Even Mr. Peebles acknowledged the invitation with thanks, but
adding that he hoped Sister would not forget he must "eschew any viands
at all greasy, and that his hot water was to be at 101, exactly."

"The poor ninny!" ejaculated Mother Atterson. "He doesn't know what he
wants. Sister only poured it out of the teakettle, and he had to wait
for it to cool, anyway, before he could drink it."

But it was determined to give the city folk a good time, and this
determination was accomplished. Two of Sister's turkeys, bought and
paid for in hard cash by Mother Atterson, graced the long table in the
sitting-room.

Many of the good things with which the table was laden came from the
farm. And, without Hiram and Sister, and Old Lem Camp, Mrs. Atterson
made even Fred Crackit understand, these good things had not been
possible!

But the Crawberry folk, as a whole, were much subdued. They had missed
Mother Atterson dreadfully; and, really, they had felt some affection
for their old landlady, after all.

After dinner Fred Crackit, in a speech that was designed to be humorous,
presented a massive silver plated water-pitcher with "Mother Atterson"
engraved upon it. And really, the old lady broke down at that.

"Good Land o' Goshen!" she exclaimed. "Why, you boys do think something
of the old woman, after all, don't ye?

"I must say that I got ye out here more than anything to show ye what we
could do in the country. 'Specially how it had improved Sister. And how
Hiram Strong warn't the ninny you seemed to think he was. And that Mr.
Camp only needed a chance to be something in the world again.

"Well, well! It wasn't a generous feeling I had toward you, mebbe; but
I'm glad you come and--I hope you all had enough gravy."

So the occasion proved a very pleasant one indeed. And it made a happy
break in the hard work of preparing for the winter.

The crops were all gathered ere this, and they could make up their books
for the season just passed.

But there was wood to get in, for all along they had not had wood
enough, and to try and get wood out of the snowy forest in winter for
immediate use in the stoves was a task that Hiram did not enjoy.

He had Henry to help him saw a goodly pile before the first snow fell;
and Mr. Camp split most of it and he and Sister piled it in the shed.

"We've got to haul up enough logs by March--or earlier--to have a wood
sawing in earnest," announced Hiram. "We must get a gasoline engine and
saw, and call on the neighbors for help, and have a sawing-bee."

"But what will be the use of that if we've got to leave here in
February?" demanded Mrs. Atterson, worriedly. "The last time I saw that
Pepper in town he grinned at me in a way that made me want to break my
old umbrel' over his dratted head!"

"I don't care," said Hiram, sullenly. "I don't want to sit idle all
winter. I'll cut the logs, anyway, and draw 'em out from time to time.
If we have to leave, why, we have to, that's all."

"And we can't tell a thing to do about next year till we know what
Pepper is going to do," groaned Mrs. Atterson.

"That is very true. But if he doesn't exercise his option before
February tenth, we needn't worry any more. And after that will be time
enough to make our plans for next season's crops," declared Hiram,
trying to speak more cheerfully.

But Mrs. Atterson went around with clouded brow again, and was heard to
whisper, more than once, something about "Mr. Damocles's sword."



CHAPTER XXXII. THE CLOUD IS LIFTED

Despite Hiram Strong's warning to his employer when they started work
on the old Atterson Eighty, that she must expect no profit for this
season's, work, the Christmas-tide, when they settled their accounts for
the year, proved the young fellow to have been a bad prophet.

"Why, Hiram, after I pay you this hundred dollars, I shall have a little
money left--I shall indeed. And all that corn in the crib--and stacks of
fodder, beside the barn loft full, and the roots, and the chickens, and
the pork, and the calf----"

"Why, Hiram! I'm a richer woman to-day than when I came out here to the
farm, that's sure. How do you account for it?"

Hiram had to admit that they had been favored beyond his expectations.

"If that Pepper man would only come for'ard and say what he was going to
do!" sighed Mother Atterson.

That was the continual complaint now. As the winter advanced all four
of the family bore the option in mind continually. There was talk of the
railroad going before the Legislature to ask for the condemnation of the
property it needed, in the spring.

It seemed pretty well settled that the survey along the edge of the
Atterson Eighty would be the route selected. And, if that was the case,
why did Pepper not try to exercise his option?

Mr. Strickland had said that there was no way by which the real estate
man's hand could be forced; so they had to abide Pepper's pleasure.

"If we only knew we'd stay," said Hiram, "I'd cut a few well grown pine
trees, while I am cutting the firewood, have them dragged to the mill,
and saw the boards we shall need if we go into the celery business this
coming season."

"What do you want boards for?" demanded Henry, who chanced to be home
over Christmas, and was at the house.

"For bleaching. Saves time, room, and trouble. Banking celery, even with
a plow, is not alone old-fashioned, and cumbersome, but is apt to leave
the blanched celery much dirtier."

"But you'll need an awful lot of board for six acres, Hiram!" gasped
Henry.

"I don't know. I shall run the trenches four feet apart, and you mustn't
suppose, Henry, that I shall blanch all six acres at once. The boards
can be used over and over again."

"I didn't think of that," admitted his friend.

Henry was eagerly interested in his selected studies at the experiment
station and college, and Abel Pollock followed his son's work there with
growing approval, too.

"It does beat all," he admitted to Hiram, "what that boy has learned
already about practical things. Book-farming ain't all flapdoodle,
that's sure!"

So the year ended--quietly, peacefully, and with no little happiness
in the Atterson farmhouse, despite the cloud that overshadowed the
farm-title, and the doubts which faced them about the next season's
work.

They sat up on New Year's eve to see the old year out and the new in,
and had a merry evening although there were only the family. When the
distant whistles blew at midnight they went out upon the back porch to
listen.

It was a dark night, for thick clouds shrouded the stars. Only the
unbroken coverlet of snow (it had fallen that morning) aided them to see
about the empty fields.

In the far distance was the twinkle of a single light--that in an upper
chamber of the Pollock house. Dickersons' was mantled in shadow, and
those two houses were the only ones in sight of the Atterson place.

"And I was afraid when we came out here that I'd be dead of loneliness
in a month--with no near neighbors," admitted Mother Atterson. "But I've
been so busy that I ain't never minded it----

"What's that light, Hiram?"

Her cry was echoed by Sister. Behind the bam a sudden glow was spreading
against the low-hung clouds. It was too far away for one of their
out-buildings to be afire; but Hiram set off immediately, although he
only had slippers on, for the corner of the barnyard fence.

When he reached this point he saw that one of the fodder stacks in the
cornfield was afire. The whole top of the stack was ablaze.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" cried Sister, who had followed him. "What can we
do?"

"Nothing,", said Hiram. "There's no wind, and it won't spread to another
stack. But that one is past redemption, for sure!"

Hiram hastened back to the house and put on his boots. But he did not
wade through the snow to the fodder stack that was burning so briskly.
He merely made a detour around it, at some yards distant. Nowhere did he
see the mark of a footprint.

How the stack had been set afire was a mystery. Hiram had stacked the
fodder himself, with the help of Sister, who had pitched the bundles up
to him. The young farmer did not smoke, and he seldom carried matches
loose in his pockets.

Therefore, the idea that he had dropped a match in the fodder and a
field mouse, burrowing for some nubbin of corn, had come across the
match, nibbled the head, and so set the blaze, was scarcely feasible.

Yet, how else had the fire started?

When daylight came Hiram could find no footprint near the stack--only
his own where he had circled it while it was blazing.

It was the stack nearest to the Dickerson line. Hiram, naturally,
thought of Pete.

Since Mrs. Dickerson's sickness, Mother Atterson had been back and forth
to help her neighbor, and whenever Sam Dickerson saw Hiram he was as
friendly as it was in the nature of the man to be.

Hiram could not believe that Pete's father would now countenance any
of his son's meannesses; yet when the young farmer went along the line
fence, he saw fresh tracks across the Dickerson fields, and discovered
where the person had stood, on the Dickerson side of the fence opposite
the burned fodder stack.

But these footprints were all of three hundred feet from the stack, and
there was not a mark in the snow upon Hiram's side of the fence, saving
his own footprints.

"Maybe somebody merely ran across to look at the blaze. But it's strange
I did not see him," thought Hiram.

He could not help being suspicious, however, and he prowled about the
stacks and the barns more than ever at night. He could not shake off the
feeling that the enemy in the dark was at work again.

January passed, and the fatal day--the tenth of February--drew nearer
and nearer. If Pepper proposed to exercise his option he must do it on
or before that date.

Neither Hiram nor Mrs. Atterson had seen the real estate man of late;
but they had seen Mr. Strickland, and on the final day they drove to
town to meet Pepper--if the man was going to show up--in the lawyer's
office.

"I wouldn't trouble him, if I were you," advised the lawyer. "But if you
insist, I'll send over for him."

"I want to know what he means by all this," declared Mrs. Atterson,
angrily. "He's kept me on tenter-hooks for ten months, and there ought
to be some punishment for the crime."

"I am afraid he has been within his rights," said the lawyer, smiling;
but he sent his clerk for the real estate man, probably being very well
convinced of the outcome of the affair.

In came the snaky Mr. Pepper. The moment he saw Mrs. Atterson and Hiram
he began to cackle.

"Ye don't mean to say you come clean in here this stormy day to try and
sell that farm to me?" asked the real estate man. "No, ma'am! Not for no
sixteen hundred dollars. If you'll take twelve----"

Mrs. Atterson could not find words to reply to him; and Hiram felt like
seizing the scoundrel by the scruff of his neck and throwing him down to
the street. But it was Mr. Strickland who interposed:

"So you do not propose to exercise your option?"

"No, indeed-y!"

"How long since did you give up the idea of purchasing the Atterson
place?" asked the lawyer, curiously.

"Pshaw! I gave up the idee 'way back there last spring," chuckled
Pepper.

"You haven't the paper with you, have you, Mr. Pepper?" asked Mr.
Strickland, quietly.

The real estate man looked wondrous sly and tapped the side of his nose
with a lean finger.

"Why, I tore up that old paper long ago. It warn't no good to me," said
Pepper. "I wouldn't take the farm at that price for a gift," and he
departed with a sneering smile upon his lips.

"And well he did destroy it," declared Mr. Strickland. "It was a
forgery--that is what it was. And if we could have once got Pepper in
court with it, he would not have turned another scaly trick for some
years to come."



CHAPTER XXXIII. "CELERY MAD"

The relief to the minds of Hiram Strong and Mrs. Atterson was
tremendous.

Especially was the young farmer inspired to greater effort. He saw the
second growing season before him. And he saw, too, that now, indeed,
he had that chance to prove his efficiency which he had desired all the
time.

The past year had cost him little for clothing or other expenses. He had
banked the hundred dollars Mrs. Atterson had paid him at Christmas.

But he looked forward to something much bigger than the other hundred
when the next Christmas-tide should come. Twenty-five per cent of all
the profit of the Atterson Eighty during this second year was to be his
own.

The moment "Mr. Damocles's sword", as Mother Atterson had called it, was
lifted the young farmer jumped into the work.

He had already cut enough wood to last the family a year; now he got Mr.
Pollock, with his team of mules, to haul it up to the house, and then
sent for the power saw, asked the neighbors to help, and in less than
half a day every stick was cut to stove length.

As he had time Hiram split this wood and Lem Camp piled it in the shed.
Hiram knocked together some extra cold-frames, too, and bought some
second-hand sash.

And he had already dug a pit for a twelve-foot hotbed. Now, a
twelve-foot hotbed will start an enormous number of plants.

Hiram did not plan to have quite so much small stuff in the garden this
year, however. He knew that he should have less time to work in the
garden. He proposed having more potatoes, about as many tomatoes as the
year before, but fewer roots to bunch, salads and the like. He must give
the bulk of his time to the big commercial crop that he hoped to put
into the bottom-land.

He had little fear of the river overflowing its banks late enough in the
season to interfere with the celery crop. For the seedlings were to be
handled in the cold-frames and garden-patch until it was time to set
them in the trenches. And that would not be until July.

He contented himself with having the logs he cut drawn to the sawmill
and the sawed planks brought down to the edge of the bottom-land, and
did not propose to put a plow into the land until late June.

Meanwhile he started his celery seed in shallow boxes, and when the
plants were an inch and a half, or so, tall, he pricked them out, two
inches apart each way into the cold-frames.

Sister and Mr. Camp could help in this work, and they soon filled the
cold-frames with celery plants destined to be reset in the garden plat
later.

This "handling" of celery aids its growth and development in a most
wonderful manner. At the second transplanting, Hiram snipped back the
tops, and the roots as well, so that each plant would grow sturdily and
not be too "stalky".

Mrs. Atterson declared they were all celery mad. "Whatever will you do
with so much of the stuff, I haven't the least idee, Hiram. Can you sell
it all? Why, it looks to me as though you had set out enough already to
glut the Crawberry market."

"And I guess that's right," returned Hiram. "Especially if I shipped it
all at once."

But he was aiming higher than the Crawberry market. He had been in
correspondence with firms that handled celery exclusively in some of the
big cities, and before ever he put the plow into the bottom-land he
had arranged for the marketing of every stalk he could grow on his six
acres.

It was a truth that the family of transplanted boarding house people
worked harder this second spring than they had the first one. But they
knew how better, too, and the garden work did not seem so arduous to
Sister and Old Lem Camp.

Mrs. Atterson had a fine flock of hens, and they had laid well after the
first of December, and the eggs had brought good prices. She planned to
increase her flock, build larger yards, and in time make a business of
poultry raising, as that would be something that she and Sister could
practically handle alone.

Sister's turkeys had thrived so the year before that she had saved two
hens and a handsome gobbler, and determined to breed turkeys for the
fall market.

And Sister learned a few things before she had raised "that raft
of poults," as Mother Atterson called them. Turkeys are certainly
calculated to breed patience--especially if one expects to have a flock
of young Toms and hens fit for killing at Thanksgiving-time.

She hatched the turkeys under motherly hens belonging to Mother
Atterson, striving to breed poults that would not trail so far from the
house; but as soon as the youngsters began to feel their wings they had
their foster-mothers pretty well worn out. One flock tolled the old hen
off at least a mile from the house and Hiram had some work enticing the
poults back again.

There was no raid made upon her turkey coops this year, however. Pete
Dickerson was not much in evidence during the spring and early summer.
Mrs. Atterson went back and forth to the neighbors; but although
whenever Hiram saw the farmer the latter put forth an effort to be
pleasant to him, the two households did not well "mix".

Besides, during this busiest time of the year, when the crops were
getting started, there seemed to be little opportunity for social
intercourse. At least, so it seemed on the Atterson place.

They were a busy and well contented crew, and everything seemed to be
running like clockwork, when suddenly "another dish of trouble", as
Mother Atterson called it, was served them in a most unexpected manner.

Hiram was coming up from the barn one evening, long after dark, and had
just caught sight of Sister standing on the porch waiting for him, when
a sudden glow against the dark sky, made him turn.

The flash of fire passed on the instant, and Sister called to him:

"Oh, Hiram! did you see that shooting-star?"

"You never wished on it, Sis," said the young farmer.

"Oh, yes I did!" she returned, dancing down the steps to meet him.

"That quick?"

"Just that quick," she reiterated, seizing his arm and getting into step
with him.

"And what was the wish?" demanded Hiram.

"Why--I won't ever get it if I tell you, will I?" she queried, shyly.

"Just as likely to as not, Sister," he said, with serious voice. "Wishes
are funny things, you know. Sometimes the very best ones never come
true."

"And I'm afraid mine will never come true," she sighed. "Oh, dear! I
guess no amount of wishing will ever bring some things to pass."

"Maybe that's so, Sis," he said, chuckling. "I fancy that getting out
and hustling for the thing you want is the best way to fulfill wishes."

"Oh, but I can't do that in this case," said the girl, shaking her head,
and still speaking very seriously as they came to the porch steps.

"Maybe I can bring it about for you," teased Hiram.

"I guess not," she said. "I want so to be like other girls, Hiram! I'd
like to be like that pretty Lettie Bronson. I'm not jealous of her
looks and her clothes and her good times and all; no, that's not it,"
proclaimed Sister, with a little break in her voice.

"But I'd like to know who I really be. I want folks, and--and I want to
have a real name of my own!"

"Why, bless you!" exclaimed the young fellow, "'Sister' is a nice name,
I'm sure--and we all love it here."

"But it isn't a name. They call me Sissy Atterson at school. But it
doesn't belong to me. I--I've thought lots about choosing a name for
myself--a real fancy one, you know. There's lots of pretty, names," she
said, reflectively.

"Cords of 'em," Hiram agreed.

"But, you see, they wouldn't really be mine," said the girl, earnestly.
"Not even after I had chosen them. I want my very own name! I want to
know who I am and all about myself. And"--with a half strangled sob--"I
guess wishing will never bring me that, will it, Hiram?"

Never before had the young fellow heard Sister express herself upon this
topic. He had no idea that the girl felt her unknown and practically
unnamed existence so strongly.

"I wouldn't care, Sis," he said, patting her bent shoulders. "We love
you here just as well as we would if you had ten names! Don't forget
that.

"And maybe it won't be all a mystery some day. Your folks may look you
up. They may come here and find you. And they'll be mighty proud of
you--you've grown so tall and good looking. Of course they will!"

Sister listened to him and gave a little contented sigh. "And then they
might want to take me away--and I'd fight, tooth and nail, if they tried
it."

"What?" gasped Hiram.

"Of course I would!" said the girl. "Do you suppose I'd give up Mother
Atterson for a dozen families--or for clothes--and houses--or, or
anything?" and she ran into the house leaving the young farmer in some
amazement.

"Ain't that the girl of it?" he muttered, at last. "Yet I bet she is in
earnest about wanting to know about her folks."

And from that time Hiram thought more about Sister's problem himself
than he had before. Once, when he went to Crawberry, he went to the
charitable institution from which Mother Atterson had taken Sister. But
the matron had heard nothing of the lawyer who had once come to talk
over the child's affairs, and the path of inquiry seemed shut off right
there by an impassable barrier.

However, this is ahead of our story. On this particular night Hiram
washed at the pump, and then followed Sister in to supper.

Before they were half through Mr. Camp suddenly started from his chair
and pointed through the window.

Flames were rising behind the barn again!

"Another stack burning!" exclaimed Hiram, and be shot out of the door,
seizing a pail of water, hoping that he might put it out.

But the stack was doomed. He knew it the moment he saw the extent of the
blaze.

He kept away from it, as he had before; yet he did not expect to pick up
any trail of the incendiary near the stack.

"Twice in the same place is too much!" declared the young farmer,
glowing with wrath. "I'm going to have this mystery explained, or know
the reason why."

He left Mr. Camp to watch the burning fodder, to see that sparks from
the stack did no harm, and lighting his lantern he went along the line
fence again.

Yes! there were the footprints that he had expected to find. But the
burning stack was even farther from the fence than the first one
had been--and there were no marks of feet in the soft earth on Mrs.
Atterson's side of the boundary.



CHAPTER XXXIV. CLEANING UP A PROFIT

Hiram crawled through the wires, and followed the plain foot-marks back
to the Dickerson sheds. He lost them there, of course, but he knew by
the size of the footprints that either Sam Dickerson or his oldest son
had been over to the line fence.

"And that shooting-star!" considered Hiram. "There was something peculiar
about that. I wonder if there wasn't a shooting star, also, away back
there at New Year's when our other stack of fodder was burned?"

He loitered about the sheds for a few moments. It appeared as though all
the Dickersons were indoors. Nobody interfered with him.

Of a sudden Hiram began to sniff an odor that seemed strange about a
cart-shed. At least, no wise farmer would have naphtha, or gasoline, in
his outbuildings, for it would make his insurance invalid.

But that was the smell Hiram discovered. And he was not long in finding
the cause of it.

Back in a dark corner, upon a beam, lay a big sling-shot--one of those
that boys swing around their heads with a stone in the heel of it, and
then let go one end to shoot the missile to a distance.

The leather loop was saturated with the gasoline, and it had been
scorched, too. The smell of burning, as well as the smell of gasoline,
was very distinct.

Hiram took the sling-shot with him, and went up to the Dickerson house.

He had got along so well with the Dickersons for these past months
that he honestly shrank from "starting anything" now. Yet he could not
overlook this flagrant piece of malicious mischief. Indeed, it was more
than that. Two stacks had already been burned, and it might be some of
the outbuildings--or even Mrs. Atterson's house--next time!

Besides, Hiram felt himself responsible for his employer's property. The
old lady could not afford to lose the fodder, and Hiram was determined
that both of the burned stacks should be paid for in full.

He looked through the window of the Dickerson kitchen. The family was
around the supper table-Mr. and Mrs. Dickerson, Pete, and the children,
little and big. It was a cheerful family group, after all. Rough and
uncouth as the farmer was, Dickerson likely had his feelings like other
people. Instead of bursting right in at the door as had been Hiram's
intention, and accusing Pete to his face, the indignant young fellow
hesitated.

He hadn't any sympathy for Pete, not the slightest. If he gave him--or
the elder Dickerson--a chance to clear up matters by making good to Mrs.
Atterson for what she had lost, Hiram Strong decided that he was being
very lenient indeed.

He stepped quietly onto the porch and rapped on the door. Then he backed
off and waited for some response from within.

"Hullo, Mr. Strong!" exclaimed the farmer, coming himself to the "door.
Why! is that your stack burning?"

"Yes, sir," said Hiram, quietly.

"Another one!"

"That is the second," admitted Hiram. "But I don't propose that another
shall be set afire in just the same way."

Sam Dickerson stepped suddenly down to the young farmer's level, and
asked:

"What do you mean by that? Do you know how it got afire?"

Hiram held out the sling-shot in the light of his lantern.

"A rag, saturated with gasoline, was wrapped around a pebble, then set
afire, and stone and blazing rag were shot from our line fence into the
fodderstack.

"I found the footprints of the incendiary on New Year's morning at the
same place. And I'll wager a good deal that your son Pete's boots will
fit the footprints over there at the line now!"

Sam Dickerson's face had turned exceedingly red, and then paled. But he
spoke very quietly.

"What are you going to do with him, Mr. Strong?" he asked. "It will be
five years for him at least, if you take it to court--and maybe longer."

"I don't believe, Mr. Dickerson, that you have upheld Pete in all the
mean tricks he has played on me."

"Indeed I haven't! And since I got a look at myself--back there when the
wife was hurt----"

Sam Dickerson's voice broke and he turned away for a moment so that his
visitor should not see his face.

"Well!" he continued. "You've got Pete right this time--no doubt of
that. I dunno what makes him such a mean whelp. I'll lambaste him good
for this, now I tell you. But the stacks----"

"Make him pay for them out of his own money. Mrs. Atterson ought not to
lose the stacks," said Hiram, slowly.

"Oh, he'll do that, anyway, you can bet!" exclaimed Dickerson, with
conviction.

"I don't believe that sending a boy like him to jail will either improve
his morals, or do anybody else any good," observed Hiram, reflectively.

"And it'll jest about finish his mother," spoke Sam.

"That's right, too," said the young farmer. "I tell you. I don't want
to see him--not just now. But you do what you think is best about this
matter, and make Peter pay the bill--ten dollars for the two stacks of
fodder."

"He shall do it, Mr. Strong," declared Sam Dickerson, warmly. "And he
shall beg your pardon, too, or I'll larrup him until he can't stand.
He's too big for a lickin', but he ain't too big for me to lick!"

And the elder Dickerson was as good as his word. An hour later yells
from the cart shed denoted that Pete was finally getting what he should
have received when he was a younger boy.

Before noon Sam marched the youth over to Mrs. Atterson. Pete was very
puffy about the eyes, and his cheeks were streaked with tears. Nor did
he seem to care to more than sit upon the extreme edge of a chair.

But he paid Mrs. Atterson ten dollars, and then, nudged by his father,
turned to Hiram and begged the young farmer's pardon.

"That's all right, etc.," said Hiram, laying his hand upon the boy's
shoulder. "Just because we haven't got on well together heretofore,
needn't make any difference between us after this.

"Come over and see me. If you have time this summer and want the work,
I'll be glad to hire you to help handle my celery crop.

"Neighbors ought to be neighborly; and it won't do either of us any good
to hug to ourselves any injury which we fancy the other has done. We'll
be friends if you say so, Peter--though I tell you right now that if you
turn another mean trick against me, I'll take the law into my own hands
and give you worse than you've got already."

Pete looked sheepish enough, and shook hands. He knew very well that
Hiram could do as he promised.

But from that time on the young farmer had no further trouble with him.

Meanwhile Hiram's crops on the Atterson Eighty grew almost as well this
second season as they had the first. There was a bad drouth this year,
and the upland corn did not do so well; yet the young farmer's corn crop
compared well with the crops in the neighborhood.

He had put in but eight acres of corn this year; but they had plenty of
old corn in the crib when it came time to take down this second season's
crop.

It was upon the celery that Hiram bent all his energies. He had to pay
out considerable for help, but that was no more than he expected. Celery
takes a deal of handling.

When the long, hot, dry days came, when the uplands parched and the
earth fairly seemed to radiate the heat, the acres of tender plants
which Hiram and his helpers had just set out in the trenches began to
wilt most discouragingly.

Henry Pollock, who did all he could to aid Hiram on the crop, shook his
head in despair.

"It's a-layin' down on you, Hiram--it's a-layin' down on you. Another
day like this and your celery crop will be pretty small pertaters!"

"And that would be a transformation worthy of the attention of all
the agricultural schools, Henry," returned the young farmer, grimly
laughing.

"You got a heart--to laugh at your own loss," said Henry.

"There isn't any loss--yet," declared Hiram.

"But there's bound to be," said his friend, a regular "Job's comforter"
for the nonce.

"Look here, Henry; you'd have me give up too easy. 'Never say die!'
That's the farmer's motto."

"Jinks!" exclaimed young Pollock, "they're dying all around us just the
same--and their crops, too. We ain't going to have half a corn crop if
this spell of dry weather keeps on. And the papers don't give us a sign
of hope."

"When there doesn't seem to be a sign of hope is when the really
up-to-date farmer begins to actually work," chuckled Hiram.

"And just tell me what you're going to do for this field of wilted
celery?" demanded Henry.

"Come on up to the house and I'll get Mother Atterson to give us an
early supper," quoth Hiram. "I'm going to town and I invite you to go
with me."

Henry had got used by this time to Hiram's little mysteries. But this
seemed to him a case where man had done all that could be done for the
crop, and without Providential interposition, "the whole field would
have to go to pot", as he expressed it.

And in his heart the young farmer knew that the outlook for a paying
crop of celery right then was very small indeed. He had done his best
in preparing the soil, in enriching it, in raising the sets and
transplanting them--up to this point he had brought his big commercial
crop, at considerable expense. If the drouth really "got" it, he would
have, at the most, but a poor and stunted crop to ship in the Fall.

But Hiram Strong was not the fellow to throw up his hands and own
himself beaten at such a time as this. Here was an obstacle that must
be overcome. The harder the problem looked the more determined he was to
solve it.

The two boys drove to town that evening and Hiram sought out a man who
contracted to move houses, clean cisterns and wells, and various work
of that kind. He knew this man had just the thing he needed, and after
a conference with him, Hiram loaded some bulky paraphernalia into the
light wagon--it was so dark Henry could not see what it was--and they
drove home again.

"I'd like to know what the Jim Hickey you're about, Hiram," sniffed
Henry, in disgust. "What's all this litter back here in the wagon?"

"You come over and give me a hand in the morning--early now, say by
sun-up--and you'll find out. I want a couple of husky chaps like you,"
chuckled Hiram. "I'll get Pete Dickerson to work against me."

"If you do, you tell Pete he'll have to work lively," said Henry, with
a grin. "I don't know what it is you want us to do, but I reckon I can
keep my end up with Pete, from hoein' 'taters to cuttin' cord-wood."

"You can keep your end up with him, can you?" chuckled Hiram. "Well! I
bet you can't in this game I'm going to put you two fellows up against."

"What! Pete Dickerson beat me at anything--unless it's sleeping?"
grunted Henry, with vast disgust. "I'll keep my end up with him at
anything."

And the more assured he was of this the more Hiram was amused. "Come
on over early, Henry," said the young farmer, "and I'll show you that
there's at least one thing in which you can't keep your end up with
Pete."

His friend was almost angry when he started off across the fields for
home; but he was mighty curious, too. That curiosity, if nothing
more, would have brought him to the Atterson house in good season the
following morning.

Already, however, Hiram and Pete--with the light wagon--had gone down
to the riverside. Henry hurried after them and reached the celery field
just as the red face of the sun appeared.

There had been little dew during the night and the tender transplants
had scarcely lifted their heads. Indeed, the last acre set out the day
before were flat.

On the bank of the river, and near that suffering acre, were Hiram and
Pete Dickerson. Henry hurried to them, wondering at the thing he saw
upon the bank.

Hiram was already laying out between the celery rows a long hosepipe.
This was attached to a good-sized force-pump, the feedpipe of which was
in the river. It was a two-man pump and was worked by an up-and-down
"brake."

"Catch hold here, Henry," laughed Hiram. "One of you on each side now,
and pump for all you're worth. And see if I'm not right, my boy. You
can't keep your end up with Pete at this job; for if you do, the water
won't flow!"

Henry admitted that he had, been badly sold by the joke; but he was
enthusiastic in his praise of Hiram's ingenuity, too.

"Aw, say!" said the young farmer, "what do you suppose the Good Lord
gave us brains for? Just so as to keep our fingers out of the fire? No,
sir! With all this perfectly good and wet water running past my field,
could I have the heart to let this celery die? I guess not!"

He had a fine spray nozzle on the pipe and the pipe itself was long
enough so that, by moving the pump occasionally, he could water every
square foot of the big piece. And the three young fellows, by changing
about, went over the field every other day in about four hours without
difficulty.

By and by the celery plants got rooted well; they no longer drooped in
the morning; before the drouth was past the young farmer had as handsome
a field of celery as one would wish. Indeed, when he began to ship the
crop, even his earliest crates were rated A-1 by the produce men, and he
bad no difficulty in selling the entire crop at the top of the market,
right through the season.

The garden paid a profit; the potatoes did even better than the year
before, and Hiram harvested and sold seventy-five dollars' worth while
the price for new potatoes was high.

He shipped most of his tomatoes this year, for he could not pay
attention to the local market as he had the first season; but the tomato
crop was a good one.

They raised to eight weeks and sold, during the year, five pair of
shoats, and Mrs. Atterson bought a grade cow with her calf by her side,
for a hundred dollars, and made ten pounds of butter a week right
through the season.

Old Lem Camp, looking ten years younger than when he came to the farm,
muscular and brown, did all the work about the barns now, milked the
cows, and relieved Hiram of all the chores.

Indeed, with some little help about the plowing and cultivating, Hiram
knew very well that Mrs. Atterson and Old Lem could run the farm another
year without his help.

Of course, the old lady could not expect to put in any crop that would
pay her like the celery; for when they footed up their books, the
bottom-land had yielded, as Hiram had once prophesied to Mr. Bronson
over four hundred dollars the acre, net.

Twenty-four hundred dollars income from six acres; and the profit was
more than fifty per cent. Indeed, Hiram's share of the profit amounted
to three hundred and seventy dollars.

With his hundred dollar wage, and the money he had saved the previous
season, when the crops were harvested this second season, the young
farmer's bank book showed a balance of over five hundred dollars to his
credit.

"I'm eighteen years old and over," soliloquized the young farmer. "And
I've got a capital of five hundred dollars. Can't I turn that capital
some way go as to give me a bigger--a broader--chance?

"Thus far I've been a one-horse farmer; I want to be something better
than that. Now, there's no use in my hanging around here, waiting for
something to turn up. I must get a move on me and turn something up for
myself."



CHAPTER XXXV. LOOKING AHEAD

During this year Hiram had not seen much of Mr. Bronson, or Lettie. They
had gone back to the West over the summer vacation, and when Lettie
had returned for her last year at St. Beris, her father had not come on
until near Thanksgiving.

Hiram had spoken with Lettie several times during the fail, and he
thought that she had vastly improved in one way, at least.

She could not be any prettier, it seemed to him; but her manner was more
cordial, and she always asked after Sister and Mrs. Atterson, and showed
that her interest in him was not a mere surface interest.

One day, when Hiram had been shipping some of the last of his celery,
Lettie met him on the street near the Scoville railroad station. Hiram
was in his high boots, and overalls; and Lettie was with two of her girl
friends.

But the girl stopped him and shook hands, and told him that her father
had arrived and wanted to see him.

"We want you to come to dinner Saturday evening, Hiram. Father insists,
and I shall be very much disappointed if you do not come."

"Why, that's very kind of you, Miss Lettie," responded the young farmer,
slowly, trying to find some good reason for refusing the invitation. He
was determined not to be patronized.

"Now, Hiram! This is very important. We want you to meet somebody," said
Lettie, her eyes dancing. "Somebody very particular. Now! do say you'll
come like a good boy, and not keep me teasing."

"Well, I'll come, Miss Lettie," he finally agreed, and she gave him a
most charming smile.

Lettie's two friends had waited for her, very much amused.

"I declare, Let!" cried one of them--and her voice reached Hiram's ears
quite plainly. "You do have the queerest friends. Why did you stop to
speak to that yokel?"

"Hush! he'll hear you," said Miss Bronson; yet she smiled, too. "So you
think Hiram is a yokel, do you?"

"Hiram!" repeated her friend. "Goodness me! I should think the name was
enough. And those boots--and overalls!"

"Well," said Lettie, still amused, "I've seen my own father in just such
a costume. And you know very well that he is a pretty good looking man,
dressed up."

"But Let! your father's never a farmer$" gasped the other girl.

"Why not?"

"Oh, she's just joking us," laughed the third girl. "Of course he's a
farmer--he owns half a dozen farms. But he's the kind of a farmer who
rides around in his automobile and looks over his crops."

"Well, and this young man may do that--in time," said Lettie. "At least,
my father believes Hi is aimed that way."

"Nonsense!"

"He doesn't look as though he had a cent," said the third girl.

"He is putting away more money of his very own in the bank than any boy
we know, who works. Father says so," declared Lettie. "He says Hi has
done wonderfully well with his crops this year--and he is only raising
them on shares.

"Let me tell you, girls, the farmer is coming into his own, these
days. That is a great saying of father's. He believes that the man
who produces the food-stuffs for the rest of the world should have a
satisfactory share of the proceeds of their sale. And that is coming,
father says.

"Farmers don't have to half starve, and be burdened by mortgages and
ignorance, any longer. The country sections are waking up. With good
schools and good roads, and the grange, and all, many rural districts
are already ahead of the cities in the things worth while."

"Listen to Let lecture!" sniffed one of her friends.

"All right. You wait. Maybe you'll see that same young fellow--Hi
Strong--come through this town in his own auto before you graduate from
St. Beris."

"Pshaw!" exclaimed the other. "If I do I'll ask him for a ride," and the
discussion ended in a laugh.

Perhaps, however, had Hiram heard all Lettie had said he would not have
been so doubtful in regard to fulfilling his promise about taking dinner
with Mr. Bronson and his daughter on Saturday evening.

To tell the truth, the more he thought of it, the more he shrank from
the ordeal. Once he had hoped Mr. Bronson would be the one to show him
the way out of the backwater of Crawberry. Hiram had not forgotten how
terribly disappointed he had been when he could not find the gentleman's
card in the sewer excavation.

And later, when Mr. Bronson had suggested that he leave Mrs. Atterson
and come to him to work, Hiram feared that he had missed an opportunity
that would never be offered him again. His contract was practically
over with his present employer, and Hiram's ambition urged him to desire
greater things in the farming line.

It might be in Mr. Bronson's power to aid the young farmer right along
this line. The gentleman owned farms in the Middle West that were being
tilled on up-to-date methods, and by modern machinery. Hiram desired
very strongly to get upon a place of that character. He wished to learn
how to handle tools and machinery which it would never pay a "one-horse
farmer" to own. But how deeply had the gentleman been offended
by Hiram's refusal to come to work for him when he gave him that
opportunity? That was a question that bit deep into the young farmer's
mind.

When he went to the Bronson's house on Saturday, in good season, Mr.
Bronson met him cordially, in the library.

"Well, my boy, they all tell me you have done it!" exclaimed the
Westerner.

"Done what?" queried Hiram.

"Made the most money per acre for Mrs. Atterson that this county ever
saw. Is that right?"

"I've succeeded in what I set out to do," said Hiram, modestly.

"And I did not believe myself that you could do it," declared the
gentleman. "And it's too bad, too, that I was a Doubting Thomas," added
Mr. Bronson, his eyes beginning to dance a good deal like Lettie's.

"You see, Hiram, I had it in my mind when I took this place to get a
young men from around here and teach him something of my ways of work,
and finally take him back West with me.

"I have several farms that are paying me good incomes; but good
farm-managers are hard to get. I wanted to train one--a young man. I
ran against a promising lad before you came to the Atterson place; but I
lost track of him.

"Had you been willing to leave Mrs. Atterson and come to me," continued
Mr. Bronson, "I believe I could have licked you into shape last season
so that you would have suited me very well," and he laughed outright.

"But now I want you to meet my future farm-manager. He is the very
fellow I wanted before I offered the chance to you. I reckon you'll be
glad to see him----"

While he was talking, Mr. Bronson had put his hand on Hiram's shoulder,
and urged him down the length of the room. They had come to a heavy
portiere; Hiram thought it masked a doorway.

"Here is the fellow himself," exclaimed Bronson suddenly.

The curtain was whisked away. Hiram heard Lettie giggling somewhere
in the folds of it. And he found himself staring straight into a long
mirror which reflected both himself and the laughing Mr. Bronson.

"Hiram Strong!" spoke the Westerner, admonishingly, "why didn't you tell
me long ago that you were the lad who turned my horses out of the ditch
that evening back in Crawberry?"

"Why--why----"

"His fatal modesty," laughed Lettie, appearing and clapping her hands.

"I guess it wasn't that," said Hiram, slowly. "What was the use? I would
have been glad of your assistance at the time; but when I found you I
had already made a contract with Mrs. Atterson, and--what was the use?"

"Well, perhaps it would have made no difference. When I had dug up the
fact that you were the same fellow whom I had looked for at Dwight's
Emporium, it struck me that possibly the character that old scoundrel
gave you had some basis in fact.

"So I said nothing to you after you had refused to break your contract.
That, Hiram, was a good point in your favor. And what that little girl
at your house has told Lettie about you--and the way Mrs. Atterson
speaks of you, and all--long since convinced me that you were just the
lad I wanted.

"Now, Hiram, I believe you know a good deal about farming that I don't
know myself. And, at any rate, if you can do what you have done with a
run-down place like the Atterson Eighty, I'd like to see what you can do
with a bigger and better farm.

"What do you say? Will you come to me--if only for a year? I'll make it
worth your while."

And that Hiram Strong did not let this opportunity slip past him will be
shown in the next volume of this series, entitled: "Hiram in the Middle
West; Or, A Young Farmer's Upward Struggle."

He was sorry to leave Mrs. Atterson at Christmas time; but the old lady
saw that it was to Hiram's advantage to go.

"And good land o' Goshen, Hiram! I wouldn't stand in no boy's way--not
a boy like you, leastways. You've always been square with me, and you've
given me a new lease of life. For I never would have dared to give up
the boarding house and come to the farm if it hadn't been for you.

"This is your home--jest as much as it is Sister's home, and Old Lem
Camp's. Don't forgit that, Hiram.

"You'll find us all here whenever you want to come back to it. For I've
talked with Mr. Strickland and I'm going to adopt Sister, all reg'lar,
and she shall have what I leave when I die, only promising to give Mr.
Camp a shelter, if he should outlast me.

"Sister's folks may never look her up, and she may never git that money
the institution folk think is coming to her. But she'll be well fixed
here, that's sure."

Indeed, taking it all around, everybody of importance to the story
seemed to be "well fixed", as Mother Atterson expressed it. She herself
need never be disturbed by the vagaries of boarders, or troubled in her
mind, either waking or sleeping, about the gravy--save on Thanksgiving
Day.

Old Lem Camp and Sister were provided for by their own exertions and
Mrs. Atterson's kindness. The Dickersons--even Pete--had become friendly
neighbors. Henry Pollock had waked up his father, and they were running
the Pollock farm on much more modern lines than before.

And Hiram himself was looking ahead to a scheme of life that suited him,
and to a chance "to make good" on a much larger scale than he had on the
Atterson Eighty where, nevertheless, he had made the soil pay.





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